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Carpe Diem #7 – Quick, Quaint, Quail

finger food with quail eggs sunny side up

quail eggs

I hadn’t even planned to fix some food. I had had a little lunch, and supper still was far away. But all of a sudden I remembered those quail eggs in my fridge.

So I decided that – instead of trying to find excuses and reasons why, indeed, I should fix some food – I just would go into the kitchen and start working. On what, I had no idea yet. I only knew that quail eggs would be involved. Contemplating and rummaging through fridge and pantry, eliminating what I didn’t want to do or eat – no scrambling of the eggs, no filling them, no peeling or prepping vegetables, not prosciutto and no smoked salmon either – I finally opted for a super simple canapé.

pepper jam on bread

quail egg cooking in skillet

A miniature one, to perfectly accommodate and honor the tiny, heavenly eggs; and one that combined just a few very fine and complementing ingredients. So onto slices of Baguette went my sweet & spicy pepper jam, and on this a generous smear of duck liver & black truffle mousse. While the butter became hot in the skillet, I carefully cracked the nifty egg shells with a sharp knife, one by one, and then briefly fried the quail eggs until the white had set and started to brown around the edge, just about a minute or so.

Now it was the little sunny side up’s turn to take stage on the canapés. I sprinkled a little black lava salt onto the eggs, and a wonderful afternoon delight was born. We ate, raved, and were happy. (So next time you remember a dear ingredient in your kitchen, take a break and go play. It’s food, so it’s always worth it.)

face made of eggs, play with your food

canapé with quail egg

Carpe Diem #6 – On a (Black) Mission

Fresh figs

When nature gives you abundance, take it. Use the product – that for a limited time is seemingly everywhere -, enjoy it, mix it up, play with it. And just before you get tired, preserve it. – I did this with lemons, tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries, mangoes, beans, peppers, peaches and several herbs so far this year. And now with Black Mission Figs.

This small, dark and very versatile variety is my personal favorite one, and recently it came in bounty and striking beauty. We ate the fruit straight out of the crate, cut in half and topped with a dollop of fresh goat cheese, or with a sliver of a good blue cheese. We added it to leafy salads. We put a generous amount of goat cheese between two halfs of a fig, wrapped the whole thing with some thinly sliced jamón (or Italian prosciutto, for those who prefer) and let it get crisp under the broiler. We smuggled slices of figs onto pizzas, hidden under speck and arugula (an adaption of a flat bread we once ate at one of Todd English’s restaurants). We pounded pork tenderloin as flat as possible, smeared enough St.Agour – an über creamy blue cheese from southern France – on it and added quarters of little Black Missions. We rolled the beast up, using toothpicks to keep its shape intact, while it was first browned in the pan and then finished in the oven. We did not prepare but talk about the possibility of serving pork chops accompanied by a rich, thick Aceto Balsamico & fig sauce. We also did not bake the fig tart we had made last year.

fresh figs and blue cheese

But we did realize that it was time to move on to the preserving stage. And we knew exactly how we would turn our little friends into immortal, eternally tasty figs: By soaking them, very simply, in brandy. We had been gifted, two or three years ago, with a few jars of such drunken figs by a friend. We ate them with ice cream, with Crème Pâtissière and in delicate muffins (and, one here and there, just off the spoon). My favorite application though was in cheese: We cut a Buffalo Camembert in half horizontally (works best with when done with unscented floss), put the brandied fig slices on the bottom part, and put the top back on again. We let the cheese rest in the fridge overnight, in order to let the flavors mingle. One can do this with any kind of Brie (especially triple cream one), a regular cow Camembert or a fresh goat cheese. Any soft cheese, really. The experience was heavenly, and it could easily replace a sweet dessert.

cheese is filled with brandied figs

Preparing brandied figs is simple and quick: All one needs are cleaned, fresh figs*, a good quality brandy and Mason jars. If you want to preserve the figs whole, poke them with a fork all around. In case you prefer smaller pieces, slice the fruits. Fill a Mason jar with the fruits until about 2 inches from the top. Pack the figs tight, but don’t squish them. Pour the brandy in the jars so that all fruits are completely covered. Close the jar and turn upside down in order to get rid of any air pockets. Make sure the fruits still are completely covered. Let stand in the dark 4-6 weeks before enjoying.

(*Dry figs can be used if desired. They will result in a much sweeter flavor and more dense texture, especially around the edges.)

jars of figs in brandy

Carpe Diem #5 – Pear with Blue Cheese Mousse

pear appetizer with blue cheese mousse

Are you having guests over for drinks, but no clue what to serve to nibble on? These perked up pears can be prepared in barely no time, they are versatile when it comes to the liquid pairings, and different in a pleasant way.

All you need are pears, a bit of blue cheese and heavy cream, and maybe a little green garnish out of your fridge or herb pots. – In a small bowl, with a fork, mix some blue cheese with a little heavy cream – the ratio depends on the kind of blue you are choosing. Creamy cheeses like Gorgonzola Dolce, St.Agour Bleu (which I used), Blu del Moncenisio, etc. are more ideal (and mixed into a mousse faster) than dry and crumbly blues like for instance Stilton. Put the mousse into a piping bag (or make one out of a Ziploc bag, by cutting off a tiny corner).

pear and st.agour bleu

Wash a pear, dry and cut it into quarters. Cut out the core. Pipe the mousse onto the basin of the pear, in circular motion. Arrange the pears on a platter, top the mousse with a tiny bit of blue cheese, and garnish with some herbs or greens (arugula or parsley would work well, I used French Sorrel with a nice, tart bite). – Fini! Enjoy your free time, the company, and of course the food and drinks!

pears topped with blue cheese mousse on platter

Carpe Diem #4 – (Enlightened) Pissaladière

tomato tart with anchovies and onions

It’s  not pizza. It’s not foccacia. It’s Pissaladière. And, because we are talking about carpe diem – to enjoy the day, rather than to waste it rushing around – this here is an enlightened version of Pissaladière. In every sense of the word.

Where it originates from, in the area between Nice, southern France, and San Remo on the Ligurian coast of Italy, Pissaladière consists of a hearty layer of bread dough, thickly covered with sliced onions that have been cooked in duck fat or butter, plenty of anchovies and dark, pitted olives. Before it goes into the oven, the pastry is basted with Pissalat, a condiment made of pureed anchovies, olive oil, mediterranean herbs and pepper. (And obviously the one ingredient that has given this dish its name.)

southern french tomato and onion tart

For an easy appetizer or light meal, and especially during the warmer months of the year, I like a version of Pissaladière that replaces the bread dough with a thin, flaky layer of puff pastry and part of the onions with finely sliced tomatoes. I skip the black olives (because they are my least favorites), and instead of substituting them with another kind, I go wild on the anchovies (which I adore). So: Puff pastry dough, anchovies, caramelized onions, tomatoes, mediterranean herbs. – That’s it. Easy peasy. And while the tart, which the enlightened Pissaladière after all the moderations has become, bakes, enjoy a glass of wine. Happy weekend!

Slices of pissaladiere

Carpe Diem #3 – Egg on a Skewer

baked egg on skewer

Wait, wait, before you rush into your weekend, I want to share a little dish that might come in handy. As a fortifier with your drinks tonight, as an appetizer or snack for friends you might receive tomorrow, or even as an eye catching course of a big Sunday Brunch. Eggs on a skewer are very quick, very versatile and, at least I think, very pretty.

All you need are eggs, skewers – preferably wooden ones or, if you have them on hand, rosemary twigs -, and an oven. The rest is up to you. Carefully put each egg onto a skewer horizontally. If the shell seems very hard, you might punch a little hole into one end of the egg with the tip of a sharp knife. Lay the skewer(s) onto a sheet pan and bake in an oven preheated to 450 degrees for 4 minutes for a liquid, 6 minutes for a runny and 8 minutes for a rather firm yolk (keep in mind that the very hot eggs will still keep on cooking for a while after you remove them from the oven).

Arrange the eggs on a plate or platter and let cool until you can touch them. With a serrated knife, cut the top part of each egg open. When you are ready to eat, remove the skewer and dig in. You can serve this on top of a risotto or salad, accompanied by smoked salmon, or as I like it best: With your favorite salt and some good bread. Happy weekend!

baked egg on skewer