Flirting with Flavour


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Pickin’ up pawpaws, put ’em in your pocket…

A couple of weeks ago, while at the annual Anniversary Weekend of the mosque where I went to pre-school, I tried pawpaw fruit for the first time.  The mosque has a farm where they grow a number of different fruits and vegetables.  And as I wandering around, I stopped to admire (hungrily, I might add) the apples that had been brought in from the farm.  In a small wicker basket on the edge of the table with the apples, were a fruit that I thought might be some kind of mango or papaya.  Unsure, I asked what they were.  “Pawpaws”, came the reply.

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Pickin up pawpaws, put ‘em in your pocket… A familiar, yet unfamiliar, tune made its way into my head.  Please tell me you also remember this nursery rhyme from your childhood?!

Upon asking a few more questions (and a couple google searches), I found out that pawpaw trees are native to the north east of the United States and are absolutely not related to papaya, which occasionally are given the nickname pawpaw.  They do, however, taste very tropical, a bit like a banana crossed with a mango and a hint of something that would make it the perfect accompaniment to a Piña Colada, and have the texture of papaya.  Their seeds are shaped like the stretched out pennies you can get as a souvenir at the zoo and there are lots of them, which make them a bit messy to eat.

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I had my first few bites of pawpaw and we threw ideas back and forth about what could be done with them, aside from eating them fresh – smoothies, curry, chilli, tea loaf, muffins, cookies, custard, were a few of the ones we came up with.  I did really like them fresh, but always one to leap at the chance to try new ingredients and recipes, I accepted the challenge to take 6 medium sized pawpaws and make something, anything, with them.  With my roadtrip to Maine coming up, I opted to make muffins, figuring they’d make a good snack for during the long ride.  The recipe I came up with, which is included below, is inspired by the pawpaw’s similarities to banana and the fall weather.  In order to get the puree, I washed, peeled, and de-seeded the pawpaws and then put the meat through a food processor for just 1-2 minutes, until I had a mashed-banana-like consistency.  The resulting muffin is really the perfect representation of autumnal spices.  For that reason, it would be a good accompaniment to a Thanksgiving brunch.  I’ve never tasted anything quite like it, but then again, until a few weeks ago neither had I ever tasted fresh pawpaw!  And, of course, these could be made using banana, mashed sweet potato, squash, or pumpkin, or anything you feel goes well with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and ginger!

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Pawpaw Muffins
Yield: 22 muffins

Ingredients
Dry

2 ¾ cup flour (I used a mixture of spelt & white rye)
1 7/8 tsp cream of tartar
¾ tsp salt
1 1/8 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon (I use a Vietnamese cinnamon that I got through the King Arthur Flour website – I have never had such a fragrant cinnamon, even when I grate it myself)
½ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp each of allspice and ground ginger
Zest of 1 lemon

1/2 cup unsweetened desiccated coconut
1/3 cup mixed chocolate & cinnamon chips

Walnuts, roughly chopped (to sprinkle on top)

Wet

¼ cup vegetable oil
6 medium ripe pawpaws, pureed
5/8 cup granulated sugar
½ cup light brown sugar, packed
Juice from ½ lemon
3 eggs

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 375F (190C or 350F convection).  Line muffin cups.
  2. In a medium bowl mix together flour, cream of tartar, salt, baking soda, spices, and lemon zest
  3. In the bowl of a mixer (or use a hand mixer), whisk oil, pawpaw puree, and sugar on medium speed until well mixed and fluffy. Add lemon juice and the eggs one at a time. Combine.
  4. Slowly add dry ingredients to wet ingredients. Mix until just combined, making sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Remove bowl form mixer and fold in coconut and chocolate/cinnamon chips.
  5. Divide batter evenly into muffin cups. Sprinkle with chopped walnuts
  6. Bake for 20-25 minutes. (Mine cooked in 23 minutes in a convection oven at 350F.)


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Apple and Pear Crumble (or an initiation into intuitive baking)

I have always wanted to be one of those people who could look at ingredients and intuitively combine them to create something wonderfully delicious, no recipe needed.  I have combined recipes before, taking and leaving different pieces of up to 7 or 8 different recipes, thus creating my own.  I’ve always been slightly intimidated to simply go forth without any reference point, though.

Last month, while in Israel, I received a special request to make apple pie.  I was there doing research and visiting my cousin J who moved to Tel Aviv to marry Y, an Israeli girl who has since become more like a big sister to me.  It seems that one of the things J missed most from the US was apple pie!  (Is there anything more quintessentially American?)

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apple and pear crumble

Now, I’m not a huge apple pie maker – there are usually blueberries or peaches, or both! (why not go wild?!) involved – and to find spelt flour in Tel Aviv at such late notice, while certainly possible, was a task made that much more challenging by the fact that it was Shabbat.  So, I improvised.  Despite Tel Aviv’s ardent refusal to jump on the religious bandwagon and shut down for Shabbat, the only grocery stores open are AMPM, so, of course, a trip there was necessitated.

J and I had a fabulous hummus dinner (more on that later), after which I scoured the meagre, though sufficient, selections of the nearby AMPM to see what I could do about this apple pie.  No Meghan-friendly flour, so…. How about a crumble?  No whole almonds – that’s okay, they had bags of chopped and crumbled almonds and walnuts.  No brown sugar?  Demerara will do – just adds a bit of an extra crunch.  The apples looked “meh”, but the pears looked pretty “all right”, so why not combine the two?  Plus, they’re getting cooked, so who really cares about a few surface-level blemishes.  What we care about is flavour!

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getting up close and personal with the crumble

Ingredients bought we headed home.  It was already quite late, but that’s never stopped me before.  I think J & Y were a bit surprised that I was baking at such a late hour (we actually fell asleep and didn’t even try it until the next morning!), but after being robbed by the AMPM’s monopoly on Shabbat grocery shopping, there was no way I was going to wait until the next day to be faced with the knowledge that I could have made this crumble for half, or even a third, of the price… [Note to self – don’t let Shabbat get the better of you, next time think ahead!]

The recipe below is the result of this late night endeavour as well as two subsequent trials and tweakings.  It’s still lacking a certain something, which if you figure out what it is, I’d love to hear it!  But, I am particularly proud of this recipe, because it has inaugurated me into the club of intuitive, recipe-less bakers. So, yay!

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the crumble topped with plain sheep yoghurt – delicious!

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3 hungry people can make a good dent pretty quickly!

Apple & Pear Crumble
Preheat oven to 180C

Filling:

4 medium-sized tart apples, chopped in large chunks
3 pears, chopped in large chunks
~ 1 inch of ginger, grated
juice from 1 orange
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg (optional)
¼ tsp ground ginger (if you don’t have fresh ginger)
juice from 3-4 passion fruits (optional)
3-4 TBSP date syrup (depending on how sweet the fruit is)
juice from about half a lemon (depending on how sour the fruit is)

Method:

Combine above ingredients in a bowl, making sure the fruit is well coated with the spices and juices. Pour into pie pan or whatever vessel you’re using.

Topping:

~ 1 ½ cups rolled oats
¾ cup chopped nuts (any combination you like – I generally do almonds and walnuts)
½ tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
½ – ¾ cup brown sugar (depending on how sweet you want it)
5-6 TBSP (or glugs) melted butter or vegetable oil

Method:

Combine the dry ingredients in another bowl and then add the butter or oil and mix with your fingers until you have a sand-like consistency.  Crumble the mixture on top of the fruit mixture.

Bake for 30-40 minutes in an oven that has been preheated to 180C. It should be bubbling, the fruit should be tender (if stick a knife or fork into it), and the top should be brown. If the top browns before it is finished cooking, cover with foil. Alternatively, if the top is not crisp or brown enough for your liking, you can turn the oven heat up to 200C for 5 minutes to brown it.


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Berlin Brunch

Last weekend I took a break.   I decided I’d had enough of grey London and would head to grey Berlin instead.  A combination of school and social pressures were pushing down on me and I just needed to get put.  Plus, my friend S is working there until the 30th of November, so I figured I had a good excuse. 

When I finally traipsed up the stairs to her temporary Berlin home, I was greeted by the most beautiful sight – a full Saturday brunch.  Because S’s job was only a temporary gig, she has been living with her friend U (it pays to have friends all over the world!), for whom apparently this Saturday brunch is a tradition.  Boy did I feel lucky to be included!   And I will definitely be on the lookout for how to be invited back.  This was obviously a flat for one, but that was not going to stop U!  She had filled her small dining table with freshly sliced tomatoes and mozzarella, various cheeses (sliced and creamy), multiple bowls of fruit, coffee, juice, and a delicious-perfectly-almost-undercooked-omelette, with more spilling over onto the coffee table next to us: fresh croissants, rolls, olive bread, and brioche.  Somehow she had even managed to fit plates and mugs for all six of us girls.  Having been up since 4:15am and eaten only a flaxseed energy bar and clementine, boy was this cornucopia a sight for sore eyes!  I undoubtedly ate more than my fair share, but S graciously matched me. 

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Looking across the street at Kunsthaus Tacheles

 

I should apologise now for the fact that, in an effort to be in the moment and not be hampered by my desire to take photos every five minutes, I left my camera in my suitcase almost the entire three days I was there.  This means, that I have no photos of food, other than those taken on my phone, which are far too low quality to be shared.  I can hear you all gasping in disbelief, and I know, I’m sorry!  Won’t happen again, I promise.

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Inside the Tacheles sculpture garden

Saturday afternoon we ambled around Neukölln, wandering in and out of cute galleries, cafes, and second-hand shops, working off brunch.  Naturally, we soon got hungry, so decided to take a snack break at Pizza a Pezzi, which we had noted in the Berlin Superguide.  We shared two pieces, though as each piece comes on its own breadboard it’s much more than a standard slice!  Pretty good value for money too, at under €5 each.  I got the aubergine pizza and S got one topped with rocket.  I must say she made the better choice.  Supposedly the pizza there is made in the thin-crusted Neapolitan style.  The rocket pizza most definitely was, and was delicious.  It was crispy and the dough had a nice flavour to it.  Best of all, it was simple.  Just tomatoes, cheese, and rocket.  The dough on mine was more like a flatbread, which is fine if that’s what you’re wanting, but when expecting crispy pizza dough, I wasn’t too thrilled.  The aubergine itself was nicely roasted and had a good flavour, but I found myself drizzling olive oil over the pizza to make it tastier; something I almost never do.  As S concluded, if you’re in Berlin and craving pizza, go to Italy!  But, when that’s not an option 😉 Pizza a Pezzi is could be a good halfway point to quench your craving.

Suffice it to say that, as usual, I had a deliciously food oriented weekend, that included roasted chestnuts and Moroccan lentil soup at the Mauerpark Flohmarkt, multiple indulgences in Ritter Sport (mmmm I still have some left and this is making me crave chocolate, might have to go indulge), popcorn with paprika sprinkled on top (if this is not a thing, it really should be!), topped off with a lovely last dinner at Toca Rouge in Mitte.  Good food, good company.  I couldn’t have asked for a better last night!

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Berlin Wall Memorial at Bernauerstr

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Berlin Wall Memorial at Bernauerstr

A quick note on Toca Rouge, since I’m sure you’re wondering.  Asian fusion is probably one of my favourite types of food.  Though, I will admit to saying that about a lot of cuisines… Although Toca Rouge is not the most inspired of the fusion restaurants I’ve been to, the food was perfectly executed and not too saucy.  I had the Crazy Orange Chicken, which I would highly recommend.  As my friends know, “clean food” is my favourite food.  Toca Rouge manages to invoke the delicious flavours of Chinese food, without the artery-clogging effects of too much MSG and sauce, thus being satisfactorily clean!  The ambience is soothing (though a bit annoying to sit on stools all night) and despite being very modern is quite cozy, due to its small size.  Yes, cozy, not cramped.

Off to find that leftover Ritter…

Tschüss! 


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Writing is a verb

It was almost a year and a half ago now, that my mom and I strolled down Rue Mouffetard with our new acquaintance Janice, who had up and left her job in LA as a copywriter to travel the world and pursue her dreams.  Her journey brought her to Paris, where we fatefully met in the Red Wheelbarrow bookstore on Rue St Paul in Le Marais the day before my twenty-first birthday.

As we wandered between vendors selling croissant au beurre, seafood of all varieties, such as scallops both in (coquilles St-Jacques) and out (noix de St Jacques) of their shells, fresh raviolone alle olive, and various fresh fruits and vegetables, I, perhaps inspired by the echoes of Meryl Streep’s portrayel of Julia Child on this same street, put words to thoughts I had harboured thenceforth close to my heart.  “I’d like to start a food blog” I found myself saying.  Janice, who blogged her way through The Artist’s Way and then kept going, replied “to write is a verb.  The only way to do it is to do it and not think about it.”  Those words have rolled around my head for the past 16 months urging me to take action.  This past May I finally picked up my dragging feet and engaged my friends help in choosing a name and theme for my blog.  This was it!  I set about photographing my creations and writing about them to create a backlog for my blog-to-be.  Then interailing happened, graduation happened, home happened and here I am three months later, still not blogging.

I still photographed every meal before it touched my mouth (be it in my kitchen or at a restaurant or café) – not that I wasn’t doing that before.  And as I fell asleep at night I would narrate my vast catalogue of articles that I will write for the New York Times Dining Section someday – of course.

Three days ago I was given a mug with the inscription, “Keep Calm and Carry On Cooking”.   My friends had been pestering me for months (maybe years?) to start a food blog, but if this wasn’t a kick I don’t know what is!  So I’ve decided, this really is it.  That mug has been staring me in the face as I drink my morning chai, a purposeful challenge and reminder that there is no time like the present.

So, here goes.  Every new food is an adventure and story waiting to be told.  I am starting this blog so as to share them with you.  I hope you enjoy!