Monday, August 30, 2010

how to cook with a ripe kiwifruit

As August draws to a close, I can finally begin to regard the bar exam as a distant nightmare. I no longer think in terms of "before the bar exam" and "after the bar exam."

Still, I find myself cleaning up the last traces: deleting the link to the bar overseers website from my bookmarks folder, recycling practice essays when sorting papers, and relegating everything with the bar prep course logo on it to the trash. Oh, and rediscovering the kiwifruit I bought the weekend before I sat down to two days of hell.

Unlike the bookmarks and the old papers, however, the kiwifruit were a pleasant discovery. As I've written before, the best way to eat ripe kiwifruit is to buy them, leave them in your fridge, and completely forget about them for a month. Upon rediscovery, the kiwifruit will be ripe and perfect for eating. And once you've been sufficiently satiated, you can cook with them.

The quick options involve cutting the kiwifruit into slices or dice: throw them into fruit salad, garnish a pavlova, or make up a kiwifruit-topped custard tart. Turn kiwifruit into puree, however, and then you have more involved possibilities to play with. Creamy panna cotta with a vivid green sauce. Fool with a tropical twist. Even a decidedly non-traditional bellini.

To be perfectly honest, though, I prefer not to fuss too much with my kiwifruit puree. I like a plain, straightforward kiwifruit sorbet.
Well, almost. A touch of elderflower water enhances the floral, winey character of truly ripe kiwifruit, and it's also a bit of a culinary joke. Kiwifruit are also known as "Chinese gooseberries," and gooseberry and elderflower are a classic pairing in British cooking.

Kiwifruit puree. Simple syrup. A splash of elderflower pressé. A spell in an ice-cream churn, and a little time in the freezer. Smooth, luscious kiwifruit sorbet. Once the last bites are gone, and my ice-cream headache has cleared, I may not remember the bar exam at all.

Kiwifruit Elderflower Sorbet

Elderflower pressé is a sparkling elderflower drink. If you can't find it, substitute a teaspoon or two of St-Germain (elderflower liqueur) mixed with plain seltzer

(Makes approximately one-and-a-half cups.)

In a small saucepan, stir together a quarter-cup of sugar with a quarter-cup of water. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Cook until the sugar has fully dissolved and small bubbles rapidly form and break, about ten minutes or so. Turn off the heat. Set aside to cool.

Take six or seven small ripe kiwifruit and peel them carefully with a paring knife. Cut each in half and remove the white core. Cut into small chunks and press through a fine-meshed sieve into a bowl. Discard the seeds.

Transfer the kiwifruit puree to a large measuring jug. Stir in the cooled sugar syrup, and add a pinch of salt. Stir in enough elderflower pressé to make one-and-a-half cups of liquid.

Churn in an ice-cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions. Serve in chilled bowls or glasses.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

nothing gold can stay

i. early morning ravioli

On your last day in Boston, you rise when the light is still young and pale. You pull pasta dough from the fridge, and drink black coffee and eat a cup of blueberry yogurt as you wait for it to come to room temperature.

You know from experience that nothing endures. Still, you have the urge to make a final gesture, to leave some trace behind. Yours begins with garlic, mushrooms, and goat's cheese. Flavors you know she likes. Cooling the mixture, rolling and cutting, pinching and crimping to create ravioli. Tiny parcels to be opened in your absence. A small legacy: a well-stocked freezer.

ii. banh mi at noon

The asian food court is within walking distance, a fixture in your everday landscape. The friend you meet here is also a fixture, someone with whom you've shared ten years of common history. For this last meal, you opt for offerings from the vietnamese place. Banh mi, crusty roll stuffed with sweet pork and vinegared vegetables, discarding the sprigs of cilantro as you always do.

You don't stand on ceremony, and you part ways outside, walking down the street into the hot noon sun.

iii. late afternoon orleans fries

Outside, the sunshine spills in golden falls across the pavement, but it is pleasantly dim in the interior of the Friendly Toast. You read over the enormous menu out of habit, but you already know exactly what you'd like. One order of sweet potato fries with a sticky-spicy Tabasco glaze, and a black-and-white frappe with raspberries, to share.

The fries arrive heaped high upon a platter, and you crown their bright, crisp lengths with daubs of sour cream. Sweet and bright pink, the frappe is so thick it almost defeats the straw. Perhaps you look close to tears, but maybe that's only the pain in your temples from the cold.

iv. cannoli at midnight

You've been out on the bike only once or twice after dark, and never at this speed, hanging on tight as you tear down Beacon Street in an effort to reach the North End before Modern Pastry closes for the night. Your mother would kill you if she knew, but you trust his driving, and you enjoy the sight of Boston lit up and glittering as it rushes by at sixty miles an hour.

You're racing the clock, and you know this mad errand could be fruitless. But you are lucky; the Sox game you curse in Kenmore Square becomes your saving grace at Hanover Street. The doors are wide and the queue long when you arrive, the space rowdy with baseball fans. You place your order, cannoli chocolate-dipped and plain, filled with sweet ricotta. The red-and-white twine-wrapped box goes into your backpack, and you return flush with victory.

At midnight, you sit down and cut the twine on the box. The cannoli are tender and flaky, and you lick your fingers clean. One last taste of Boston before bed, before your early morning flight.

Monday, August 16, 2010

eating my fill

I have been lax in watching the calendar. August has tiptoed in, virtually unnoticed, and there is less than a week before I leave Boston - for real.

It struck me that this year, I won't be around for autumn in New England. No falling leaves. No Halloween. None of those perfect, bright, crisp days that occur before the weather starts to turn unpleasantly cold. The thought saddens me, because autumn is the season New England does best.

This year I'll have two springs, two summers, and no winter, because the seasons are reversed in the Southern Hemisphere, but I'll miss the foods I associate with fall.

No mulled cider fragrant with cloves and cinnamon. No butternut ravioli or pumpkin bread. No roasted squash from the farmers' market, eaten hot with butter and maple syrup.

When I return to Australia, maple syrup will be a rarity, a product found only at imported food stores. Even imitation maple syrup will be an oddity. (Australians, like the British, get their syrup fix from golden syrup.) And the TSA won't let me bring my half-empty pint jug of Vermont Grade B on the plane, which is why I've decided that I'll just have to eat my fill before I leave.

On pancakes. In blueberry buckle. And in maple walnut sticky buns.

As far as breakfasts go, sticky buns are a little more involved in their preparation than pancakes. Maybe even a lot more involved. But if you're willing to invest time in kneading and rolling and waiting through two rises, the end result is wonderful: soft, buttery rolls studded with walnuts and drenched in sticky maple glaze.

Lovely on a cool grey morning, even if it's still a little early for fall.

Maple Walnut Sticky Buns

(Recipe adapted from one sent by Bobbie Sue. Makes sixteen small buns.)

In a large measuring jug, combine three-quarters of a cup of milk at room temperature with a quarter-cup of warm water to produce a mixture of a lukewarm temperature. Stir in one teaspoon of active dry yeast, and leave in a warm place to develop. (The mixture will become slightly foamy.)

Set out four tablespoons of butter to soften.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together two-and-a-half cups of flour, one teaspoon salt, and two tablespoons brown sugar. Pour in the milk mixture. Stir well to combine, then turn the mixture out on a clean countertop and knead until a sticky dough forms.

Take two tablespoons of the softened butter and add them to the dough. Knead until the butter is fully incorporated and the dough is smooth in texture.

Place the dough back in the mixing bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Leave in a warm place until doubled in size - an hour or so.

To make the filling, take the remaining two tablespoons of butter, and cream them with two tablespoons of white sugar and a half-teaspoon of salt. Beat in four tablespoons of Grade B maple syrup, a tablespoon at a time, and stir in half a cup of chopped walnuts. (It will look somewhat curdled.) Put the mixture in the fridge to chill.

For the topping, combine half a cup of white sugar with a quarter-cup of water in a small saucepan. Place over low heat and bring to a boil. Cook the mixture until it turns golden in color, then remove from heat. Stir in four tablespoons of butter, followed by one-third of a cup of Grade B maple syrup. Stir in one cup of chopped walnuts. Divide the mixture between two eight-inch cake pans.

Once the dough has doubled in size, punch it down and divide it into two pieces.

Lay out a sheet of parchment paper and place the dough on it. Top it with another sheet of paper. Roll the dough out into a rough six-by-ten inch rectangle. Spread with half the filling, and roll into a log.

Cut the log into eight pieces, and arrange them in one of the cake pans, leaving space between each piece. Repeat the process with the other half of the dough and the remaining filling.

Cover the cake pans with foil and leave in a warm place to rise, forty-five minutes to an hour.

To bake, preheat the oven to 375F. Set the cake pans on baking trays (the topping tends to bubble, and might drip.)

Bake for twenty to twenty-five minutes, or until buns are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped with a finger.

Let the buns cool in the pans for ten minutes, then turn out on large plates. Serve warm with tea or coffee.

Friday, August 6, 2010

the land of the living

The bar exam is over, and the past week has marked my return to the land of the living. I swept my floors. I did my laundry. I finally made it to the bank and the post office.

And I've been eating proper meals again.

During law school, I ate well during finals, because the stress tended to leave me with the urge to cook elaborate meals. Not so in the week before the bar exam.

I ate strangely and erratically, with an appetite that swung between absent and insatiable. In the space of that one-week period, I had almond butter and jam on white sandwich bread at every single meal for three days straight. I ate lunches of cheddar, pickled plums and honey wheat pretzels dipped in mustard. I have a distinct memory of one dinner that consisted of a pint of blueberries mixed with storebought tapioca pudding, topped with whipped cream from a can. Considering the way I ate, it's wonder I didn't have a terrible stomachache by the time the exam rolled around.

Thankfully, that particular hazing ritual is finally done with, and it's time to give my poor abused digestive system a break. I'm ready to put away the white flour and sugar, and bring out the whole grains and fruit.

A nice, healthy wheatberry salad seems like a good start. Despite the name, a wheatberry isn't anything like a blueberry or raspberry. You can imagine, however, that a salad of "hulled whole wheat kernels" is probably a harder sell, even if you tout its benefits as a high source of dietary fiber. It's probably better to focus on how they taste.

Wheatberries have a pleasantly nutty flavor, a little like brown rice, and a satisfyingly toothsome texture. Lightly seasoned, dressed with olive oil and vinegar, and combined with green onions, dried cranberries, and little creamy fresh goat's cheese, they make for a filling, satisfying salad.

A good welcome back to the land of the living, I think.

Wheatberry Salad with Dried Cranberries, Green Onions, and Goat's Cheese

This salad makes for a light lunch on its own, but it's also a good accompaniment for fish, and I suspect it might pair well with grilled chicken, too.

(Serves one, with leftovers. Finished salad will keep in the fridge for two days; salad without the goat's cheese will keep for four.)

First up, your wheatberries need to be soaked overnight. Put four ounces (about half a cup) of wheatberries in a mixing bowl, cover with plenty of water, and forget about them until the next morning.

Drain off the soaking water and rinse the wheatberries. They can be cooked either on the stove or in the microwave. For stove cooking, put them in a pot with two whole cloves, cover with a little over a cup of water, and simmer as you would rice until softened but still toothsome. For microwave cooking, put them in a microwave-safe bowl with two whole cloves, cover with a little over a cup of water, and cook for twenty-five to thirty minutes, or until softened but still toothsome.

Once your wheatberries are done cooking, pick out the whole cloves, and transfer the berries to a mixing bowl. Stir in one-and-a-half teaspoons of olive oil, a tablespoon of rice vinegar, and a pinch of salt. Finely mince a green onion (white and green parts) and add it to the bowl with a quarter-cup of dried cranberries. Grind over a generous sprinkling of black pepper. Stir well to combine. Allow the mixture to cool completely before transferring to the fridge to chill.

When you're ready to eat, take an ounce of fresh goat's cheese and crumble it into the wheatberry mixture. Stir gently to combine. Serve.