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Make Your Radishes Blush

radish preserves

Colors make me happy. Preserving food does, too. Now put the two together, and you have an immensely happy Caroline.

That’s exactly what happened yesterday. Admiring the radishes my favorite farmer friends had gifted me with – taking in all the shades of purple, pink and white, plus the fascinating black, as well as the various shapes and external textures – I realized that soon it would be way too hot down here for them to grow, and I would be left without the crunchy little rounds. Unless I pickled them. So I did.

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Swiss Kiss #11 – Omeletten

cheese omelette

They are not pancakes and they are not crêpes and they are not omelets. They are something in between all those. They are very Swiss. And they are called Omeletten.

omeletten stack

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Swiss Kiss #10 – Läbchueche (Ginger Bread)

Gingerbread, traditional Christmas pastryKids usually don’t have a developed sense for time. And because they live in the moment, they are not very interested in time either (except when it’s “time” to go to bed – then they become extremely uninterested). There’s phases though throughout the year, when even kids become alert of specific days. Birthdays, for instance, seem to tickle an instinct slumbering within them. Suddenly they are bright awake and can tell exactly how many days or how many night sleeps their big day is away. Christmas tends to have the same effect.

And for me, as a child, Chlouser (Santa Day) did, too. It was the day when we went to the little fair in town, straight from school, when my mother baked Grittibänze (bread people) for supper and we even were allowed to have chocolate with it. – And there was Läbchueche! Even though the bakeries started to offer them earlier every year, in my family we never touched them before Chlouser. They rang in the Holiday season, and – as every thing restricted or limited – tasted already good just because we had had to wait for them.

verzierter lebkuchen mit zuckerguss

Each region of Switzerland prepares its own version of Läbchueche, and they even go by different names. While I grew up with the very light, yet sticky Bäremutz of the Bern area (the bear in the name and in form of a sugary decoration referring to the name of the Swiss capital, Bern), others were used to slabs – or more elaborate shapes as hearts, flowers or animals – containing nuts, honey, almonds, chocolate and more.

It took me half a century, and a move across the big pond, until I learned about what I now call Barbara’s Läbchueche. I met this wonderful Swiss lady and market goer through cheese – who would have guessed – and immediately was impressed by her energy, wit and, especially, her baking skills. The first time we met she brought me the Läbchueche from Obwalden, a region deep in central Switzerland, where once her home had been. The squares were undecorated and unpretentious, and their texture and flavors down right addicting. Moist, fluffy, springy, chocolatey and spicy all at once, long lasting on the palate yet not too heavy in the belly. Barbara’s Läbchueche are easy and quick to prepare and become even tastier after a few days. What else would one wish for during the busy Holiday season?

gingerbread, wrapped as gift

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Eggs Peru-Dict (or: How Aji and Benedict Found Each Other)

Version of eggs Benedict

I love Ceviche. And even more than the common citrusy one, I love Tiradito. This is the Peruvian interpretation of a Japanese Sashimi, so to speak, where the fish is cut into thin slices and served raw, in a creamy, dreamy, slightly hot sauce called Aji or Aji Amarillo. – Ah, Tiradito, yes, I adore you so much, I might suffer a case of obsession…

And still, when I was gifted with a big basket full of bright little yellow peppers that turned out to be Aji Dulce, or Peruvian Lemon Drops – the main ingredient of Aji -, it was not fish that came to my mind. It was a plump, sexy, poached egg that suddenly was dancing in front of my inner eye. Eureka! – I would provoke my Lemon Drops into a hefty flirt with Eggs Benedict. In a way, that ultimately would lead to marriage. She would take on his last name, but still keep hers. Eggs Peru-Dict. Perfect.

aji amarillo pepper

Aji is very easy to prepare. Aji Dulce – don’t let you fool by its name – is a hot pepper with bright, citrusy flavors that can be substituted with Tabasco or Cayenne peppers, or also with the dried Lemon Drop, Aji Mirasol. In case you get your hands on a copious amount of fruit, simply fill the sauce into small containers or ice cube trays and freeze it, so that you can pop it out whenever the craving strikes. The one for Tiradito or the one for poached eggs. Depending on your mood.

paste of lemon drop peppers

Aji Amarillo Paste

(makes 8oz)

  • 1 lbs Aji Dulce
  • 2-4 tbsp vegetable oil

Put Aji into a large pan, fill up with water and bring to a broil. Let boil 5 minutes, drain. Repeat twice, using fresh water each time.

Cut off the stems of the peppers, cut into halves lengthwise. Remove the seeds and glands.

In a food processor, purée Aji, adding the oil in stages, until the paste reaches the desired consistency. Store in the fridge or freezer.

lemon drop peppers, cooked

Tiradito

(makes plenty for 1 serving of Eggs Perudict)

  • 1 tbsp Aji Amarillo Paste
  • 1 pce Peruvian Lemon Drop pepper, washed, deseeded and finely chopped
  • 1/2 tbsp garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp vegetable or olive oil
  • 1 tbsp lime juice, freshly squeezed
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a small bowl, mix all ingredients into a smooth, not too thin sauce and set aside.

poached eggs on a green bed

Eggs Peru-Dict

(makes 1 serving)

  • 2 handful Arugula, washed and dried
  • 1/2 pce Avocado
  • 1/2 pce Lime
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 tbsp Tiradito
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Arrange the Arugula in the center of a large plate.

Cut Avocado into slices, drizzle Lime on each slice and arrange on the Arugula.

Fill large pan with water and bring to a boil. Crack the eggs open and carefully slide into the water. Cook 2-3 minutes, remove with a slotted spoon and put on paper towel. Carefully pat the eggs dry.

Arrange eggs on top of the Arugula-Avocado nest, pour Aji Amarillo on top. Add salt and pepper to your liking. – Bon appétit!

whole peruvian lemon drop peppers

messy poached eggs with greens

 

 

Star Stuck

carambola ready to be pickled

I live in Florida. And it’s September. And together, that means Star Fruits. – Not a few, here and there. No, it means loads of them, over and over again.

So we eat Carambola – as this star shaped, deep golden colored fruit also is called -, whole, just as one would eat an apple or pear. We slice it up and let the lovely little stars infuse our water. We cut it into slices, dehydrate it and nibble on star shaped chips. We juice it. We cook it (with the aid of lots of pectin!) into jam. We chop it and make it into salsas and chutneys. We decorate salads or crudité platters with the yellow stars.

And, because even after all of the above there usually still are way too many Carambolas around – I pickle them. I have experimented with different brines and solid partners, and by now stick to red onions as a perfect companion to the Star Fruit, and a simple apple cider vinegar liquid. Pickling Carambola is quick and easy, so I recommend to make the little extra time to take out the seeds. It is not a huge effort, and the result is a very pleasant eating experience.

carambola bounty

carambola

Pickled Star Fruit are most probably not part of any cook book recipe – and therefore mobilize one’s creative juices. They can be added to savory sandwiches or be part of a big mixed salad. They have turned out to be the just perfect companions to specific cheeses. They marry merrily with all kinds of fatty meats and charcuterie (Foie Gras, anybody? Rillettes, Pâtés?). They make baked fish very happy, and simple rice dishes right out fancy – especially when there are some warm spices involved (think curry, turmeric, cumin, coriander, etc.).

Not to mention that they taste fruity and sweet and tart and summery just plain out of the jar. – So, being star stuck isn’t a bad thing after all.

pickled carambola in jars

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My “I Love You All” Papaya Salad

Papaya salad on an Asian dressing

Blame it on the rain. – We were all set up at the market, us vendors, ready for the customers. But it was unusually grey and wet and unfriendly on that specific morning, and the clients very obviously were not in a rush. So we had time to walk between each others booths, and chat. And of course we talked (mostly) food. My friend from San Salvador told me about a meal a Chinese neighbor had fixed for her – a Thai version of green Papaya salad with chicken. She gave one of the green – not quite ripe – Papayas her neighbor is growing in Matlacha to me. I was fascinated and kept on tinkering about what I would be transforming my green gift into.

Later that day, my son came home from his farm job with a box of longish, yellow, beautifully glowing peppers I had never seen before. A little research made clear that they were Aji Amarillo. From Peru. – One more tempting country and cuisine. One that ignited my plan: I was going to make  salad of Floridian products that have their roots in South- and Central America, and an Asian style dressing. An ode to all of my international food and market friends.

unripe papaya

open papaya, with  seeds

Julienning the Papaya on a mandolin makes for a good crunch. I used Aji Amarillo, Serrano and Red Bell peppers, simply because I had those on hand. One can adjust the varieties to desire, creating a more or less spicy salad. I also added red and yellow Cherry Tomatoes, which turned out to be vibrant eye catchers. For more green speckles (besides the fine strips of Serrano), i put in fresh, chopped Cilantro and some green onions. Basil would work very well also, as would the addition of cooked green beans. By using sesame oil, lime juice, soy sauce and cooking rice wine, I kept the dressing simple yet tasty. This salad can be served as a light appetizer, a refreshing side dish or, complemented by fresh, grilled or dried shrimp, some cooked chicken, seared Tofu and a handful of toasted peanuts or cashews, as a healthy main dish.

Oh, and it works as a cooling meal on a sweltering hot day just as well as for a brightening and soothing bite on a rainy one. So no blaming here.

ingredients for papaya salad

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Stop Complaining Already!

key lime panna cotta dessert served

The beginning is always exciting. When you move to another country – where things are much different to what you are used to -, you first set out to explore everything new. And of course “everything”, for folks like me, first and foremost means food. While you become accustomed to fruits you never had seen before, meat cuts that sounded bizarre, cans that make you shiver, vegetables who’s names you can’t pronounce and baked goods that don’t resemble the ones you used to make back home – very, very slowly the euphoria shrivels and makes space for your longings.

There were a lot of foods, after I had moved across the big pond, that I missed early on. Cheese, for one. (Which, looking back, is ok. I turned that lack into a business that I still passionately love. And that provides me with nothing but the best cheeses.) White asparagus. Reineclaudes and mirabelles. Horse meat (and yes, i know some can’t believe that). My mom’s quince gelée. Lattich. Mangold. Apples and cherries and red currants I actually could see grow and ripen on the tree or bush, rather than just have it shipped from some far away place. I missed foraging for mushrooms and wild herbs. I missed my daily walk to the bakery and the über fresh breads for breakfast.

squeezed key limes for dessert

I still miss those (and other) things. But I made a point to stop complaining, and instead start enjoying all the many goods available here and now. I use tomatillos, star fruit, various citrus, mangoes. I experiment with boniato and yuca, lemongrass and long beans. I tend to bake more than I ever used to, and to find local and regional producers who offer edibles that make sense. It is a challenge, and to me that’s a good thing.

To this day, I see bountiful plum orchards in my dreams every now and then. And, as every early fall, I start practicing to imagine fire roasted chestnuts – eaten straight out of a paper bag on the street – without falling into a light to medium depression. But I am getting better. By now I can read recipes for stone fruit tarts or gourd soups without stumbling.

By now I also am able to remember an old, familiar recipe for Panna Cotta* with a Mixed Berries & Honey Coulis and, instead of start day dreaming, to immediately translate it into one that features Key limes instead of the (unavailable). Because there’s a box full of Key limes – grown right here where I am – waiting in my kitchen. – So, yes, always look at the bright side. And stop complaining.

forms for panna cotta

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The (other) Forbidden Fruit

eggplant toast with mediterranean flavors

I feel bad for the eggplant. While I adore her – and her versatility – nobody else in my house loves eggplant. It gets worse: Not only do my men, all five of them, not like her, they despise her. So passionately, that they have her on the radar. It is impossible for me to sneak her into any dish. My troupe will detect the finest slice, the most subtle paste, the tiniest dollop of pureed eggplant wherever I try to hide it. So most of the time, our kitchen functions eggplant free.

But every now and then I protest in my very own way, by preparing an eggplant meal just for myself. Celebrating, highlighting and respecting this – in my house, anyways – forbidden fruit, brings my mind at least a little peace. And after having enjoyed my meal, I always feel happy and serene. Thank you, my beloved eggplant, you tolerant and humble, dark beauty!

aubergines before baking

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Yukhoe – Tartare with a Twist

raw beef tartare

Both my husband and I are frequent and fanatic travelers. Of course, the thing we like most about exploring the wonderful, wide world is to discover its different foods and related traditions.

One of Daniel’s absolutely favorite trips, speaking of the food, was a month in Korea. He seemingly admired – and ever since fondly remembers – every single bite and sip of those four weeks. So when I stumbled upon “Growing up in a Korean Kitchen” by Hi Soo Shin Hepinstall (Ten Speed Press), a cookbook packed not only with recipes but stories, memories and clear info on products and techniques, it immediately came home with me.

We have cooked many dishes out of this book, and liked every single one of them. But one recipe has become our favorite and by now, in a slightly adapted way, is a staple on those nights we have to work late but still want to enjoy a nice supper at the end of it all. This raw dish requests a little prep and a few hours of rest in the fridge. That’s it. Very convenient.

sesame oil, rice vinegar, spring onions, spices

Yukhoe is a fine and somehow lighter interpretation of the classic Beefsteak Tartare. Even though the original recipe suggests to fold in an egg just before serving, we found out – simply by forgetting about that last step one night – that we like the egg less version better. Ha, us egg nuts, of all!

The Korean Tartare uses sesame oil, rice wine, juiced garlic and ginger to hold the whole mass together. The meat is not ground but hand cut, which takes a bit of time, but is totally worth it. Also the intense and patient massaging of the meat – with, besides the mentioned liquids, sesame seeds and spring onions – pays off: The meat stays moist, and those manually worked in flavors later just burst out.

This is one simply beautiful taste and texture combination. With or without the egg, for once.

beef sirloin for korean tartare

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Fitter Fritter

fritters are served with dip

Maybe it is the season. Or the decade. Or simply me. – I can’t figure out why, but recently I see recipes for and pictures of and posts on fritters everywhere. Fritters are ubiquitous. I feel like those pregnant women who seem to only encounter other pregnant women for months in a row. Fritters follow me, preoccupy me, occupy me. They have become part of my day and night dreams. I am haunted by fritters. And, I have to admit, in a strange way fascinated by them.

In order to keep my sanity and slow down a bit, I tried to analyze my fritter syndrome. And found out, that I had grown up basically fritter free. (Hard to imagine under my current circumstance.) The only fritters I ever had been fed were those hand shaped ones my Mom used to make in the rare occasions her mashed potatoes did not get polished off completely. She would add some eggs and flour in order to stretch the left overs. And serve us, to put it politely, rather heavy and bland potato fritters.

ingredients before mixing, for fritters

Which did not explain but rather contradict my obsession. So I decided to face the beast and look straight into its eyes. I would prepare fritters! Bold and brave, just like that. I knew, within, it only could kill or appease me. (There’s no mediocrity in any sort of mania.)

And I am happy to tell you that it was the latter that happened. My fritters – inspired by the ones of a friend blogger, the Austrian Alex Medwedeff of Chili & Schokolade (www.chiliundschokolade.blogspot.co.at) – turned out light and crisp, crunchy and moist, slightly sweet with the perfect hint of heat. Far away from the heavy discs I remembered, and therefore I named them Fitter Fritters. Although Jitter Fritters might be more accurate.

cooking the fritters

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