Summer is mango season in Miami. Right now, trees all over the city are dripping with ripening fruit. In celebration of the coming months, I created this simple mango salad with mozzarella and mint. It features mango in all its glory, along with soft buffalo mozzarella, fresh mint and tangy pickled onions. A drizzle of good olive oil, 18 year balsamic vinegar and a sprinkling of sea salt and fresh pepper are the only seasoning needed. This is the type of recipe that focuses on the quality of the ingredients instead of a lot of fuss—my favorite kind!
Mangos start ripening as early as April in Miami, depending on the species. There are hundreds of species and the different varieties continue producing until January. Peak season is during the summer months.
In July, we visit the Mango Festival at Fairchild Tropical Garden. This botanical garden holds the largest mango festival in the world, featuring hundreds of mango species. You can taste different mango varieties, eat mango -filled goodies and purchase fresh fruit and trees at the festival. It’s definitely a must-see for any foodie family.
Many Miami homeowners have mango trees in their backyard. We planted a dwarf mango two years ago, and this is the first year it fruited. We only harvested three little mangoes, but they were our mangoes. If you don’t have your own mango tree, this is the time of year when you wish you were friends with the grumpy neighbor who’s massive old mango tree is loaded with fruit.
The older trees bear so much fruit, many people hire pickers to come harvest the fruit from their yards; others just let it rot on the ground. If you drive through some of the old neighborhoods, you will see boxes of fruit for the taking, along with a tip jar.
Mangoes can be found cheaply throughout the city right now. You can sometimes find them in the grocery store for as little as $.25. They aren’t in as good condition as they would be straight off the tree, but for that price, I’ll take a few bruises. If you want really good prices and quality, visit the Spanish grocery stores. They get their fruit from small local producers and it is often in better condition than the fruit in the big stores.
I hope you get to try some good mangoes this year. Be sure to come by the Mango festival if you are visiting Miami in July. It’s hot, but there is plenty of good eating!
Yield: 2-4 servings
To prepare the mango, carefully remove the skin with a paring knife or vegetable peeler. Cutting lengthwise in the direction of the seed, slice two slices from the mango. Lay the slices cut-side down and cut into thin slices.
Arrange salad greens on plates. Layer a slice of mozzarella, three slices of mango, another slice of mozzarella and three more slices of mango. Add onion and mint leaves. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic. Sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Picadillo is a Spanish dish made with ground meat and other ingredients. It’s popular in many Latin American countries, each having their own variation. Living in Miami, I grew up with Cuban picadillo. Cuban picadillo is a mixture of ground beef, onions, garlic, oregano, olives, raisins and a touch of tomato sauce. It’s a hefty meal, usually served with a big portion of black beans and rice, and some sweet plantains, or plantanos maduros.
I love the rich flavor of picadillo. It’s an easy, one-pot dish that feeds a whole family. I don’t love how heavy it is, almost completely lacking in vegetables. Instead, I make a healthier spinach picadillo, packed with spinach, green pepper, celery and peas. It’s loaded with flavor and something every member of the family will love—even the picky little ones. You can serve it with white or brown rice and even substitute the ground beef for turkey.
Feel free to play around with this recipe. It’s very forgiving and you can add or substitute your favorite ingredients. I’ve made it with ground turkey instead of ground beef and it’s just as good. Lately, I make it with grass-fed organic ground beef, which is lower in saturated fat and contains 2-3x the amount of Omega 3, CLA, beta-carotene and lutein than regular beef.
I hope you enjoy this recipe for spinach picadillo as much as we have. It’s one of the few dishes I make again and again and I’m so happy to finally share it with you on Love and Duck Fat!
Heat the oil in a large saucepan on medium-high heat. Add the ground beef. Chop up the beef with a spatula as it cooks, turning often. Add the onion, garlic, salt, pepper, cumin, oregano and cayenne pepper. Cook about 8-10 minutes, until the onions are soft but not brown.
Add the olives, olive juice, celery, bay leaf tomato sauce, raisins, white wine and broth to the pan and bring to a simmer, stirring to combine. Cover and reduce heat to low. Cook for 30 minutes.
Uncover and increase heat to medium. Add lime juice and spinach. Cook for another 5-10 minutes uncovered or until mixture reduces to desired consistency. Stir and season to taste. Add peas just before serving. Remove bay leaf and serve with rice and an avocado salad.
I have a treasured star fruit tree in my yard, which produces a crop of fruit several times a year. I end up with so much of this delicious tropical fruit; I’m forced to think of new ways to use it (even though my neighbors are very happy to accept my fruity gifts).
A few months ago, I wanted to make a star fruit upside-down cake, but the fruit on my tree wasn’t ripe enough. Instead, I made this delicious kumquat upside-down cake. The kumquat cake was better than I thought it would be. The tart kumquat skins, though a little chewy, were perfect with the sweet caramel-covered cake.
With my star fruit tree loaded with ripening fruit, I anxiously awaited the moment when I could make the upside-down cake again. Unfortunately, my waiting was prolonged, because one of my neighbors decided to take it upon herself (without asking) to pluck the ripest fruit from my tree as she walked her dog. She isn’t very tall, though, so the top branches were left untouched and I was able to find 2 tree-ripened fruit to make the long-awaited cake.
Visually, the star fruit upside-down cake is stunning, with drippy caramel and cake squeezed between the thick slices of fruit. Despite its fragile appearance, star fruit holds up well to cooking. It keeps its distinct star shape even in sauces. The flavor, however, is very subtle. Star fruit is very juicy, mildly sweet and a little tart, reminiscent of a kiwi.
I used a different recipe for the cake batter this time, and made a richer caramel topping. The cake is more substantial and buttery. It is very moist, with a touch of nutty flavor from the addition of ground almonds. The caramel topping could easily be made with a touch of rum to accent the tropical fruit even more.
So which cake is better, Kumquat or Star fruit upside-down cake?
I’ll just have to make them both again to have a real taste test.
You can make the entire cake using a large (10”) cast iron skillet. If you don’t have one, use a standard 9-inch cake pan. It’s up to you how much fruit to use. I recommend cramming as much as you can into the pan, because it will shrink together when it cooks.
Melt the butter and brown sugar (and rum if using) over medium heat in your skillet or a heavy saucepan, until the sugar is melted and bubbly, about 5-10 minutes. If you added rum, cook 5 minutes longer on low heat. Try not to stir it around too much, because it isn’t necessary. Remove from the heat. If you are using a cake pan instead of a cast iron skillet, pour the caramel into the bottom of the cake pan.
When the caramel is cool, arrange the fruit from the outside-in. Squeeze as much fruit in the bottom as you can. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 325° F/ 170° C
Combine the flour, ground almonds, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, beat together the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs to the butter mixture one at a time, beating until combined. Add the vanilla extract. Alternate adding the dry ingredients and the yogurt everything is blended.
Pour the cake batter over the fruit layer and spread evenly (it will be thick). Bake 50 minutes to 1 hour, until a cake tester inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cool for 15 minutes.
Carefully turn the cake out onto a large platter, taking care as there will be hot caramel that may drip through the sides of the pan. Best served warm or room temperature.
I’ve been holding onto this recipe for a while now, so it’s only fitting it goes out as Love and Duck Fat’s last recipe of 2013. It’s the ultimate “Miami-style” Eggs Benedict, perfect for the morning after a long night out in the warm December air. Tender roast pork, poached egg and fresh cilantro hollandaise perched on top of a buttery-sweet arepa. The recipe isn’t too complicated. I use leftover roast pork, and store-bought arepas. The hollandaise is freshly-made, using lime juice and cilantro. Make sure you serve it with some hot sauce on the side.
Eggs Benedict can be made so many ways. I came up with this one with my husband while we were discussing the ultimate “Miami-style” Eggs Benedict over brunch one morning. If you have visited Miami, you may have come across the arepa vendors in popular parks and events. They are grill corn flour patties, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. They are slightly sweet with the taste of corn, and delicious sandwiched together with warm melted cheese.
You can buy arepas in the refrigerated section of many Latin markets (usually next to the queso fresco). They come in a regular and mini-size. I prefer using the regular size for this recipe, trimmed down to the size of the Eggs Benedict. The mini arepas are more dry, but will work if that is all you can find.
Of course, you need some good roast pork. I like to slow roast a pork shoulder every few months with lots of onions, lime juice and cumin. It goes into tacos, appetizers (like this Cuban sandwich crostini) salads and then the freezer, to thaw for recipes like this (roast pork recipe to follow). If you are a true Miami native, you may have some roast pork left over from your Noche Buena celebration.
As my last post of 2013, I wish everyone a Happy New Year filled with love, family, friends and delicious food. Thank you for spending time with me (even if it was just a minute or two) on Love and Duck Fat. It’s been a blast!
Whisk together the egg yolks and lime juice in a stainless steel bowl until they are lighter in color, and thickened. Heat about 2 inches of water in the bottom of a small saucepan to simmering (or use a double boiler). Place the bowl on top of the saucepan, without allowing the water to touch the bottom of the bowl. Be careful not to get the eggs to hot or they will scramble.
Continue whisking the egg mixture rapidly. Slowly drizzle the melted butter into the eggs until the sauce is thick and double in volume. Remove from the heat.
Add the cayenne pepper, salt and cilantro to the sauce. Cover and keep warm until you are ready to serve.
I like to poach eggs in a small nonstick skillet filled with a few inches of water. I add a touch of white vinegar to the pan and bring it barely to a simmer.
Crack an egg into a small glass bowl. When bubbles begin to appear on the bottom of the pan, carefully pour the egg into the water. Cover and turn down the heat to low. Allow to cook for 4 minutes. Remove from the water with a slotted spatula (you may have to carefully pry off the bottom of the pan), and place on paper towels.
In a skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter until foaming. Add the arepas and cook until slightly browned on both sides. Just before serving, top the arepas with shredded cheese and allow to melt.
Arrange two arepas per plate, cheese-side-up. Top with warm roast pork and press down slightly so you have a flat surface. Place a poached egg on each and spoon hollandaise sauce on top. Serve immediately.
The cake I really wanted to make was a starfruit upside-down cake, but the fruit on my tree isn’t ripe yet. Instead, I made this kumquat upside-down cake, which is just as fun, and may be even tastier. I grew up with a kumquat tree in my south Florida backyard. It was just a little thing, and I don’t remember doing much with the fruit. We would pluck the little orange gems from the tree and nibble at the sweet kumquat skin. Sometimes we just tossed the sour insides away.
Now I know what to do with kumquats. They make a delicious marmalade. They are beautiful sliced into thin rings and cooked in a citrus sauce for chicken or duck. They are perfect in a cranberry sauce, and as this recipe proves, they make an excellent upside-down cake. The sweetness of the cake and caramel are perfect with the sourness of the fruit. It’s just the right amount to make this one of those cakes you can eat all day.
My Aunt who lives in Tennessee says she gets kumquats in her supermarket every winter. I hope she is right and everyone has access to these little fruits. Eating the skin takes a little getting used to. It’s the opposite with all the other citrus, but this is a kumquat’s best feature.
Or it could be their name. It’s fun to say. Go ahead…say it.
This kumquat upside-down cake showcases the little fruit beautifully. When my statfruit does finally ripen, I’ll be posting a follow-up to compare the two cakes. I have a feeling they will both be equally delicious. How could you not love a kumquat upside-down cake?
Only slightly adapted from David Lebovitz’s upside down cake.
Preheat oven to 350°F/190°C
In a 10” cast iron skillet or cake pan (not a springform pan), melt the butter and brown sugar over medium heat. Cook, while stirring with a wooden spoon until the sugar melts and bubbles. Set aside and allow to cool while you make the cake batter.
Beat together the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl until fluffy. Add the vanilla, then the eggs, one at a time. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture, alternating with the milk until the batter is smooth. Do not over mix.
Arrange the fruit in the bottom of the skillet or pan, cut side down. If you have two cut sides on a piece, place the largest end facing down. Work from the outside of the pan, creating a tight ring of fruit. Continue until you have covered the bottom of the pan.
Pour the batter on top of the fruit and spread it towards the sides. Place in the oven and bake for 35-45 minutes until a wooden pick comes out clean. Allow the pan to cool for 20 minutes.
To flip the cake, place a plate on top of the skillet or pan. Put on your oven mitts just in case some hot juices escape. Flip the cake over and it should pop right out.
The first time I ate Brussels sprouts that were really good was at a trendy restaurant on Biscayne Boulevard called The Federal, Food Drink and Provisions. It’s only a month later, and I’ve cooked them twice more at home, because they were that yummy.
The Federal is located in the recently designated historic district called, “MiMo,” short for Miami Modern Architecture. Located along the upper east side corridor of Biscayne Boulevard between 54th and 77th streets, this is an up-and-coming area for trendy shops and restaurants. Only a few years ago, this area was better-known for drug dealers and hookers, frequenting the seedy, modern-era motels. The motels now have a new coat of paint and (most) of the hookers are gone. Instead, there is a Farmer’s Market, and restaurants pop up faster than we can try them all.
South Pacific Motel Image: Historic Preservation Miami
The dinner at The Federal was a blur that night. We met another couple for an “adult” dinner with our tired baby in tow. I ended scarfing down what I could of a the prix fixe Miami Spice menu, in between wrangling a squirmy, screeching baby and sitting outside. The Federal isn’t a family-friendly restaurant. The restaurant only had one high chair and it was occupied. I’m not complaining. All restaurants don’t need to be baby-friendly. And I will return, sans baby, so I can actually enjoy the food. Apparently, we tried about ten dishes between the four of us, and nothing on the menu even looks familiar.
I do remember the Brussels sprouts. They were roasted in a molasses vinaigrette with pickled apples and onions. I remember them being almost black — or maybe it was just dark in the restaurant. I was on the fence about Brussels sprouts before, giving them a chance every year, but never really “loving” this cute little cabbage. Now, I’m in love.
Preheat oven to 400° F/ 200° C
Arrange the Brussels sprouts on a sheet pan in a single layer. Drizzle with oil, sprinkle with pepper and half of the salt. Drizzle again with balsamic vinegar. Use your hands to toss until coated.
Roast in the oven for 20-30 minutes, turning 2 times during cooking. They should be nicely browned. Remove from the oven and lightly sprinkle with the remaining salt before serving.