Just a Bite

Quail eggs aren’t something I have thought much about. Yes, they are cute, but so very small. In the past when debating such an idea I’ve moved on, figuring they were more trouble than they were worth.

This weekend at the Saturday Market I buckled.  So clean and colorful, the tiny eggs beckoned like shiny jewels, pulling me in from their counter top display.  Before I knew it, the friendly vendor had fully captured my attention with talk of cooking Eggs-in-a-Hole (or my favorite Egg-in-a Nest). As she packed up my eggs, she describes the quail’s shell and inner membrane as thicker than chicken eggs, and suggests tapping the shell with a sharp knife to crack it open, rather than wrapping it on a hard surface.

Later online I learn that quail eggs are far more nutritious than chicken eggs. They are packed with vitamins (B1, B2, A), good cholesterol, phosphorous, potassium, and minerals. A quail egg has only 14 calories… so tiny, so powerful.

This morning I revisited my childhood favorite Egg-in-a Nest (here), in its diminutive form. The bread of choice is a personal decision, but size matters. Lately my go-to bread has become the smallish Bake at Home Sourdough Batard which requires a quick bake in the oven to finish it. Rather than bake-off the loaf, I l prefer to cut as needed and toast off slices—also an ideal size for tiny nests. To create a round in the bread for the egg, I cut around the bottom of a toothpick holder, I’ve heard a shot glass will also work.

I cut into the egg shell with a sharp knife from the pointed end. Since there seems to be a larger ratio of yolk to egg, I start far enough down (about ¼ of the full length) to allow the entire yolk to escape the shell. Watch out for particles, since the shell tends to crumble.

It’s easier to spread the bread sides with butter before placing in the pan to toast. Once almost toasted on the first side, add a bit of butter in the center hole and drop in the egg. It will likely cook fully within a minute or two. Turn to the second side and cook about 30 seconds to set; the yolk cooks very quickly.

Tiny Egg in a Nest

The quail egg’s flavor is more robust than a chicken egg. Some call it gamey, which is an overstatement. It tastes the way you wish an egg would taste. Once you get going, it’s easy to whip up a batch of nests pretty fast. I see all sorts of possibilities with these cuties, not only for breakfast, but with salad or as a delightful snack. Not so fiddly after all, they are perfect when you are looking for just a bite.

Tiny Egg-in-a-Nest

per nest:
1 small slice of favorite bread, with the center cut out
1 quail egg
butter, softened
salt and pepper


  1. Slice the bread ¼” thick and cut a small round from the center with a shot glass or similar form.
  2. To crack quail egg, quickly cut into the shell and membrane with a sharp knife. Empty the yolk and white into a small holding bowl.  Repeat with as many as needed.
  3. Using a small skillet over medium heat, butter the bread and round on both sides and place the two pieces in the skillet.  Move the bread a bit to coat the pan with butter where the egg will sit.  Allow the bread to toast, drop in a quail’s egg and let set.  Turn the bread with a spatula and cook to briefly to set the egg on second side.  Make sure the pan has a coating of butter where the egg will rest. Salt and pepper, and serve. Makes 1 nest.

Happy Birthday, Oregon!

The state capitol was abuzz with activity yesterday in celebration of Oregon’s 158th birthday.  oregon-flagWe were one happy family: visitors, locals and various groups gathered shoulder to shoulder with our legislators.  Smiles were broadly shared and cake was enjoyed by all; a far cry from the chaos running concurrently on the federal level.

Here’s a little bit of trivia I unearthed, a claim unique to our state. It’s one more reason why this is such a special place to live. Did you know the humongous fungus of eastern Oregon is regarded as the largest single living organism in the world? That’s right, the ancient fungus has tentacles that can spread underground for acres and has been known to weigh well over 20,000 pounds!

Disclaimer: since Culinary Distractions is primarily a place of food topics and interest, there will be no shared photos of this humongous fungus here, just the facts.

buffalo-beanballsOn the food side, I’d rather focus on the prettier more edible mushroom that reside in Oregon. Many have been discussed previously here, so today we will stay with the ubiquitous cremini.

Creminis are great all-purpose mushrooms; they are firm, throw off little liquid when cooked, and have superb flavor. This vegetarian meatball variation was a surprise hit at a recent Super Bowl spread.

The combination of cremini mushrooms and cannellini beans holds together amazingly well, creating a flavorful canvas for other sauces. The tasty balls are bathed in a zippy Buffalo Wing Sauce and the standard chicken element is hardly missed!

Mushroom Buffalo Balls

Inspired by Veggie Burgers at Betty Crocker.com
1-1/2 cups cooked cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
8 medium fresh cremini mushrooms
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 egg
3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
2 teaspoons canola oil for baking pan
Buffalo Wing Sauce
2-3 tablespoons butter, melted
½ cup Franks Wing Sauce
1 tablespoon Kikkoman soy or noodle sauce 


  1. In food processor bowl, place beans, sliced mushrooms, garlic, smoked paprika, coriander, cumin, salt and pepper. Cover; process with on-and-off pulses about 45 seconds, until coarsely chopped.
  2. In bowl stir bean mixture with egg and panko bread crumbs. Shape into about 24 – 1 inch balls with hands. Can be chilled at this point up to 1 day ahead; pack balls tightly together to hold shape.
  3. Oil a baking sheet and arrange the balls close together; bake at 400° F. 25-30 minutes, turning once or twice until firm and cooked through.
  4. Meanwhile prepare Buffalo Wing Sauce: heat butter until bubbly, add the wing sauce and soy sauce, stirring until bubbly and smooth.
  5. Place the hot balls in a large bowl, pour the sauce over and gently toss to coat well. Serve with blue cheese dressing and fresh vegetables.  Makes about 24 balls.

Time for Reflection and Cheese Madeleines

It’s the weekend following Thanksgiving, and time for turkey soup. This year’s version includes shallot, garlic, assorted veggies, farro, and of course turkey. Wholesome and light, the perfect prescription for over indulgence.

Such a moderate and sensible approach wasn’t destined to last long. It only took a moment of reflection, also left-over from Thanksgiving, to realize the soup would need something else to go along with it. From there, it didn’t take long to zero in on one of my old favorites, something that I haven’t had a chance to make for a while.

In no time, I was deep in cheese madeleine territory. While the soup burbled away, I pulled out my recipe and got going. I have had a soft spot in my heart for the French shell-shaped cookie ever since I eyed a barely used madeleine baking tin at a garage sale—long before their silicone counterpart hit the marketplace.madeleine tin
They only take a few minutes to prepare and about the same amount of time to bake. Since the original cookie often relies on an egg-sugar emulsion, I have taken some liberties with the cheese low-sugar version, but they are still kissed with butter.madeleine in shell
Sweet or savory, there’s something fleeting and magical about these light well-constructed pillows of bliss. Soft but crispy, solid but ethereal, mild but elusively rich… I’m beginning to rant like Proust.

Madeleines and Turkey Soup
Madeleines and Turkey Soup

What wouldn’t taste better with a few of these?

Cheese Madeleines

Lacking madeleine baking molds, substitute mini muffin pans or tiny tartlet molds.

¼ cup semolina flour or fine polenta, sifted
½ cup cake flour
2 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
2 tsp. sugar
1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
pinch nutmeg
1 egg, room temperature
½ cup milk, room temperature
1 tbsp. melted butter

1 – 2 tbsp. melted butter for molds

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray madeleine molds with baking spray and then brush lightly with melted butter.
  2. Sift dry ingredients, whisk to blend, and toss in the cheese and nutmeg to thoroughly coat.
  3. In a medium bowl whisk the egg well and slowly whisk in the milk. Gently stir in the dry ingredients combining well; slowly stir in the butter until it is all incorporated.
  4. Spoon tablespoonfuls of the batter into molds, about ¾’s full, and bake 12 minutes or until they begin to brown. Using tip of knife, release from mold and turn it over. Allow to cool briefly before moving to rack to cool. Wipe out molds, brush again lightly with butter, and repeat. Yield: 10 to 12 large madeleines.

Quinoa Quandary

There’s a quinoa storm blowing out there in the world and I have been too consumed by other grains to pay much attention.  As far as quinoa is concerned, I’ve pretty much regarded it as a hairy bitter little seed—with political consequences (but that’s another post).  So why bother?

Workers in Quinoa fields courtesy quinoa.net

It’s pretty difficult to completely ignore the quinoa frenzy, especially with the vast number of folks looking for a reprieve from food allergies and sensitivities such as gluten intolerance.  The media has jumped all over this even referring to it as one of the healthiest foods of all time and the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization even proclaimed 2013 International Quinoa Year.

I’m not a quinoa convert, but I am impressed with its adaptability and nutritional value.  Since it is a complete protein, vegans and vegetarians are on board, and it also wins over many on workout regimens with its whooping 24 grams protein in one cup or 48% of daily food intake. Quinoa has no cholesterol, it is low on the glycemic index and high in dietary fiber—which aids in weight loss and reduces arterial plaque build up (that nasty contributor to heart disease and strokes).  It’s high in magnesium, B-12, iron and potassium–a very good thing for women.

Many say that the bitterness from the saponin in its outer coating is no longer an issue, thanks to new varieties on the shelf of most markets.  I still rinse it, because I haven’t found that to always be the case.

quinoaSince it only takes 15 to 20 minutes to cook, it easily competes with white rice and beats out many grains.  There are endless varieties of the tiny seed, but three are most popular, a red, black, and a white.  The white cooks fluffier and the red and black are nuttier and tend to stick together less.

Cooking Quinoa

Standard directions suggest cooking quinoa similar to rice, 1 to 2 ratio–simmering for 15 to 20 minutes or until curly threads appear.  I’ve found that less water works better:  cooking 1 cup quinoa in 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 cups water for 20 minutes leaves it less soggy.  I have also brought an ample pot of salted water to a boil, added the quinoa and let it simmer for 12 minutes; then removed it from the heat, let it stand covered for 10 minutes and drained it. No muss, no fuss.

I’m always working on nourishing snacks that hold up well and can get me to the next meal without resorting to ineffective fillers with nothing to offer except sugar, salt, or fat.  Quinoa provides a surprisingly versatile base for a bar that is not too heavy or dense.  It holds together without being sticky or gooey and its flavor is light enough to allow  fruit to shine through.

quinoa snack bar 3 IMG_0242Quinoa Snack Bars

Tasty almond butter does the work of the usual butter or oil in this not too sweet, nouishing snack.  Quinoa and chia seeds keep it moist along with one high powered egg, banana, and a handful of dried fruit.   


  • ½ cup whole wheat flour
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • Pinch salt
  • ½ cup sesame seeds (optional)
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/3 cup dried apricots, light chop
  • 1 cup regular rolled oats (or quick)
  • 1 banana, smashed
  • 1/3 cup almond butter (or peanut butter)
  • ¼ cup honey (or agave syrup)
  • 1 cup cooked quinoa, drained if necessary, and cooled
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds, soaked in ¼ cup water 15 minutes
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg, beaten lightly


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, line and spray 8×8” pan.
  2.  In food processor bowl, place the flour, soda, cinnamon, salt and sesame seeds and pulse to combine.  Add the cranberries, apricots and oats and pulse briefly to chop up the fruit and oats but not pulverize; the fruit should be identifiable.
  3.  In a medium bowl, mash the banana; add the almond butter, honey, vanilla, quinoa, chia seeds, vanilla and beat in the egg.  Add the dry ingredients to the quinoa mixture and stir to combine well.
  4. Spread batter into prepared pan and smooth evenly into all corners and crevices.  Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes, until it begins to pull away from the sides of the pan and the top is slightly browned.
  5.  Let cool 10 minutes on wire rack; remove from pan and cool thoroughly before slicing.  Yield: 18 pieces.