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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

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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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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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

One Happy Couple

Edamame dip and Sesame crisps

Summers are hot and humid, where I live, and always too long. They are the season we complain about. It is too hot to be outside, too hot to move, too hot to do anything, too hot even for most plants to grow. So naturally, many of those summer days also are too hot to even think about hot food. Which translates into endless meals of grilled, chilled and then marinated vegetables, fish or light meats, cooled down pasta dishes, salads in abundance, frittatas, savory and sweet tarts at room temperature, cold soups, vibrant salsas and decadently tasty dips. (Oh, and did I mention refreshing cocktails, crisp whites and dry rosés?)

After having served and enjoyed guacamole, tzatziki, a chunky, pepper and peach based salsa and hummus, all in one week, I was in the mood for – still not hot food, no, but – a new version of a chilled and chilling side dish. While contemplating ingredients I had not worked with recently, Edamame came to mind. And, almost at the same moment, the Rice and Sesame Crackers I wanted to try in a long time. So that would be it: A smooth, soothing and speedy Edamame dip, accompanied by some crunchy, chewy crackers.

Dried Soy Beans

The couple turned out to be a match from heaven. The intensely contrasting flavors and textures of both components are fantastic and fun. The dip can also be used as a spread on sandwiches or burritos, or as a filling for deviled eggs (oh, I want some right now!). – With the help of a food processor, it is prepared within a few minutes. The crackers require a bit more time, but don’t fret, they are so worth it. During the majority of the time they take, only the dough is working – sorry: cooling -, and you don’t have to do anything. The most difficult thing about this little treat, really, is to not start eating the dip while the crackers are not ready yet. Once you have had them together, this should be manageable. Because this is one happy couple!

dip on cracker

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