What a strange month that was! A mix of celebrations ( Australian Father’s Day, Terry’s birthday, some friends farewell, other friends return…) should have kept me busy in the galley, but strangely enough, it was the lousy weather that forced me indoors.
22 successive days of rain meant hours spent either in the galley, cooking favourites and experimenting with new recipes, or looking for inspiration on the internet. Here are some of my most memorable moments:
– EXPERIMENTING with Baked Cauliflower slices smothered with bacon and vegetables, side of avocado and tomato salad, layered coconut cake, lemon cream cookies
– ALL TIME FAVOURITES with Pan fried chicken and Caesar salad, pizza bar, roast chicken with macaronis
– EATING HEALTHY with Quinoa salad, very raw salad, potato and spinach salad
– MEXICAN COOKING with Pork Verde and black beans, spicy garlic prawns
And just on cue, as a friend came to stay for a few days, the sun came out and actually stayed out for the end of the month. Perfect days to enjoy lounging around in Tulum and sample some of the best Mexican food.
A case of good ingredients, bad dish.
Have you ever picked a recipe thinking it sounds great and the picture looks really appetising? Well I did last week. My teenage son has been bugging me for weeks about including more protein in his diet. He is not only going thru a growing spurt, but decided to embark on a fitness kick and strive for the best abs, shoulders, and pecs a 15 year old can have. I am not complaining, better have a fitness fanatic teenager than a couch potato.
So I grabbed one of the few Men’s Health and Outside magazines we have laying around, and came across a Lentil-Mushroom Burger recipe recommended by an ultramarathon runner, called Scott Jurek. If you’re like me, you probably have never heard of him and are highly unlikely to ever run into him (pun intended!). You see, he holds the record for the most miles run in 24 hours: 165.7. And he’s done it on a vegan diet. I am always looking for new ways to incorporate plant-based foods in our rotation (that’s new lingo to say I try to eat more vegetables!) and under my son’s influence, I find myself thinking not only about the yumminess aspect but also the nutritional value of such foods ( like energy boosting or endurance enhancing). So I was intrigued by Mr Jurek’s claim that “this vegan burger is so delicious, even meat eaters find it satisfying!”.
All the ingredients are favourites of ours, and I happened to have them at hand on the boat: garlic, onions, lentils, mushrooms, walnuts, flaxseeds, breadcrumbs, Dijon mustard and spinach…I do feel like I am running a floating market sometimes! The recipe has you cooking the lentils till soft, finely chopping, mixing and sauteeing the vegetables, combine everything together, forming patties and grilling them as you would a hamburger. Sounded and looked perfect.
Except that the result was shocking: not shockingly bad, just shockingly…weird. It was savoury enough, but it felt like a vegetable patty masquerading as a burger. Which it was, and doing a bad job of it. The texture was sandlike, so dry it felt like eating gravel. The walnuts gave it crunch, the mushrooms and lentils added that earthy taste (like mud Terry said), the flaxseeds were supposed to act as binding agent (the same way an egg would, but this is a vegan dish, so eggs were out!) but they didn’t. Extra olive oil would have gone a long way, but our marathon runner mustn’t believe in adding more than 1 tablespoon of fat in the pan. I am not sure what he was thinking when he suggested to serve the patties on “toasted buns ” with no mention of any sauce (not even ketchup?) or extra fillings (lettuce leaves? Tomatoes? beetroot? No, nothing!) Hello carbs!!!
I don’t think of myself as a member of the food police, however I did find the whole combination just plain wrong. I skipped the buns, preferring to serve a baked ratatouille on the side, and a bowl of homemade tomato sauce to smother over these make believe burgers. Our daughter nailed it when she flatly declared “Mum, I don’t like your burgers” and instead, took a second serve of ratatouille, one of her least favourite food. Terry skipped straight to dessert, claiming he needed a cup of tea and a couple of coconut cookies for comfort. Our son, Marc, said it was OK, but not before slapping slices of smoked provolone cheese, sliding the lot under the grill, and whopping some tomato sauce on top. I am actually reluctant to validate his opinion, on the basis that he declared the whole dish acceptable by making it non-vegan (ie adding cheese, that’s cheating!)
So what went wrong? To me, a good burger is a burger burger, beefy and juicy (sorry, I love salmon, chicken and pork too, but they don’t come close to a good old beef burger!)Tried to make a burger out of what would make a fantastic salad, that’s what went wrong. Imagine this: lovely green lentils, sliced mushrooms, toasted walnuts, garlic croutons, caramelised onions, on a bed of shredded spinach, with a Dijon mustard dressing. Doesn’t that sound nicer? To make my point, I am off to the market this week end, to buy more vegetables and cook my version of ultramarathon fuel food. Stay tuned!
In the meantime, here is the Outside recipe for the lentils-mushrooms patties (I really can’t bring myself to call them burgers!) If anyone out there decides to try it, please do report back, I don’t mind being proven wrong (though I prefer being right).
Lentil- Mushroom Burgers
Makes 12 4” burgers (serves 6 people, or 3 ultramarathoners!)
2 ¼ cups water
1 cup dried green or brown lentils
1 tsp dried parsley
3 minced garlic clove
1 ¼ cups chopped onions
¾ cup chopped walnuts
2 cups breadcrumbs
½ cup ground flaxseeds
3 cups chopped mushrooms
1 ½ cups finely chopped kale or other winter greens ( I used spinach)
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1- In a medium-size pot, bring the water to the boil and add the dried lentils, parsley, 1 minced garlic clove, ¼ cup chopped onion. Simmer for 35-40 minutes.
2- Combine walnuts, breadcrumbs, ground flaxseeds in a small bowl and set aside.
3- In a separate pan greased with olive oil, sauté 1 cup chopped onion, 2 minced garlic cloves, mushrooms, spinach for 8 to 10 minutes.
4- Remove lentils from heat, add Dijon mustard and balsamic vinegar, and mash ingredients together.
5- In a large bowl combine lentils, sautéed vegetables and breadcrumb mixture. Cool in the fridge.
6- Using your hands, form patties and fry or grill until lightly browned and crispy on both sides, 3-5 minutes each side.
7- Serve on a toasted bun ( I DIDN’T) or on their own with fresh tomato sauce and baked ratatouille (AS I DID).
September is Latin American month in our house (oops, on our boat, rather).
We’re going along with the local mood, as September is Patriotic month in Mexico. The big day was Sept 16, Mexico’s Independence Day with fiestas organised everywhere! All shops and houses were decorated with flags and balloons, Playa del Carmen had crowds gathered down the Plaza, not sure if they had fireworks, with all the pouring rain, but that would not have stopped the Mexicans having fun. Even Anne got involved at school, and asked me to buy her some red-white-green earrings for the occasion. The supermarkets were brimming with specials on Mexican food products: tortillas, tomatoes, avocadoes, chili sauces, rice, beans, spices, sugar… heavily hinting that putting on a traditional feast was part of the celebrations (let’s not forget the Corona’s specials too: buy a 6 pack, get another for ½ price!).
I also happen to be writing about Cuba in our other blog, so my head is full of images of roast pork, black bean soup, and pina coladas. Not surprisingly, all this has influenced my cooking lately, and I have found myself trying to either recreate Cuban dishes or experiment with Mexican ones. So far, I have had success with two: black beans and Pork Verde.
Black beans have become Anne and Marc’s favourites. They are a staple Maya food, simmered with onion, garlic, and typical Mexican spices (cumin and coriander), easy to cook, filling and tasty. Mexicans eat them daily, Anne even orders it at the school cantina, where a fresh batch bubbles in a huge pot each morning.
Pork Verde is my version of Cuban roast pork. I have issues with recipes for “genuine melt-in-the- mouth” roast pork recipes, since most of them require slow cooking /baking for 6 to 8 hours, not practical on a boat with limited amount of gas. So I steered away from Pulled Pork or Pork Pibil recipes and devised my own using my pressure cooker. The trick is to use pork shoulder meat (boneless or not) which is more flavorful and tender than pork leg as it has more fat in it. I also don’t use much liquid, as I prefer the meat to simmer in its own juice and fat, not unlike a confit. Throw in some aromatics, as many chilies as you can handle, cook for 1 hour or until the meat is very tender. (Cooking in the pressure cooker takes a third of the time required for baking, a precious advantage on board)
We had leftovers of both dishes the other day (I like to make a big batch I must say, it keeps well in the fridge), and served them for lunch in typical Mexican style: with flour tortillas (you can use corn tortillas if you prefer), thinly sliced radishes, avocado and beetroot salad. Unfortunately I had ran out of crema (Mexican sour cream) and cilantro (coriander), which would have been nice additions, dolloped and sprinkled on top! Next time.
Frijoles Negro ( Black beans)
2 cups dried black beans, rinsed and picked over
1 jalapeno chile, seeded and thinly sliced
1 yellow onion chopped
2 tbsp ground cumin
2 tbsp ground coriander
¼ cup minced garlic
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
In a large saucepan, soak the beans overnight in water to cover by 2 inches. Drain and add water to cover by 2”. Add the chile, onion, cumin, coriander and garlic. Bring to boil over high heat, then reduce to a simmer and cook in the pressure cooker until tender, about 45mn (if cooking in a traditional pot, cook uncovered until tender about 1 ½h). Remove from the heat and let cool in the liquid for approx 15mn. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the cilantro and serve.
4 tbsp olive oil
1.8 kg (4 pounds) pork shoulder cut into 1” cubes
1 poblano chili (or more to taste)
1 tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
3 garlic cloves minced
½ cup minced cilantro
1 can (14oz) diced tomatoes
Flour tortillas , warmed
1- In the pressure cooker, heat 1 tbsp oil over medium-high. Add 1 pound of pork, and stir until lightly browned. Remove and set aside. Repeat with remaining meat, adding more oil as needed. Return all the meat to the pressure cooker.
2- Add chili(es), cumin, coriander, salt, pepper, garlic, cilantro and diced tomatoes. Cover and simmer until pork is very tender, about 45mn. Serve with warm tortillas, black beans (see above), guacamole and fresh radishes.
“You’re so far away from home!” This is the typical reaction we get when asked where we are from and our response is ”Australia…and France”. Though I always like to think that home is wherever the boat is, we are indeed away from our respective birth countries.
Not to say that we get homesick, but we do like to observe some of our special days and celebrate the way we would at home. Take Father’s Day. The French, Americans, Canadians, and Mexicans all celebrated their Dads back in June (including me). However Australia’s Father Day falls on the first Sunday of September, and there was no way the kids would change that tradition.
So on September 1, Terry was probably the only person waking up to his children’s “Happy Father’s Day”! As per family tradition, he was to spend the day as he pleased and order whatever he wanted to eat. We had intended to go scuba diving , all four of us, but thunderstorms and lightning stuffed up that plan. It ended up being a movie day instead. Personally I didn’t mind, as it meant spending time in the galley which I much preferred rather than trying to climb back on a diving boat in a middle of a storm!
Terry’s request for dinner was a “good old Aussie meat pie”. Now, that doesn’t sound like much, unless you are an expat Aussie! 7 months in Mexico, and this Shire boy is growing tired of empanadas, burritos, and tacos. So, I went to work.
The pie filling was easy: I had all the ingredients on board, but for the beef. It took some searching, figuring the Mexican equivalent of “chuck steak”, to eventually settle for chambarete de res or beef shanks ( otherwise used for osso bucco).
The pastry, on the other hand was a challenge. Puff pastry is near impossible to find where we live on the Riviera Maya. In fact, all that is available in the supermarkets or delis is pre-shaped graham cracker crusts or frozen phyllo pastry. So I but the bullet, and turned to my trusted Robert Carrier Cookbook, and its 45 pages devoted to pies and pastries. There, on page 759, was the recipe for Flaky Pastry, which I favoured over the Puff Pastry as it involved “only” 3 turns instead of 7. The ingredients required were the same in both cases (flour, butter, iced water, salt), so was the technique, but this being my first time and the humid weather melting the butter faster than desirable, I went for the shorter option. Still, it took me a good hour to knead, roll, spread, fold, turn…3 times. But felt quite an achiever as I cradled the buttery parcel to the fridge to rest.
Terry was so excited at the prospect, he mentioned how his favourite part of the pie was the pastry enclosing the meat. That’s when it hit me. I had made enough flaky pastry to cover the top, not worrying about the bottom. Terry’s comment? “Ohhhh, that’s a French meat pie. A real aussie meat pie has pastry top and bottom, so you can hold it in your hands!” Nothing peeves me more than being told I’m not cooking things right. So, opened the book again, and sure enough, on page 777, there is an entire section about raised pies! Well, wasn’t I happy that the diving expedition was cancelled, it gave me spare time to try my hand at rich raised pie crust making.
Raised pies are generally served cold, so the crust needs to be rather solid in texture to absorb the juices and still retain its shape. Ordinary raised pie crust is made with water, lard, flour and salt. The addition of egg and butter makes it richer, what you want when lining a mould, as I planned to. My only issue with the recipe was the use of lard. To be honest, though it’s easily available in Mexico, it’s not the kind of ingredient I keep on board ( something to do with the look and smell of the plastic wrapped blob sold in the supermarket, maybe). However, I happen to find a tub of duck fat stuck at the back of the fridge, which I had forgotten I had. It was unopened, still carrying its New York price tag from Zabar (just as well, it keeps for ages!) A little softer to handle than lard, it was a perfect substitute for it. Overall, making this crust took a fraction of the time required for flaky pastry: 10 minutes tops.
Both pastries kept each other company in the fridge, while the filling cooked and cooled. Assembling the pie was child’s play. Since we didn’t have individual pie dishes, I served it family style in a 9” deep pie dish along with steamed broccoli ( we needed a healthy side, right?). It cut well, but the amount of filling was such that Terry couldn’t eat it with his hands without the meat being squeezed out the sides. Still, it was delicious and rich, from the pastry and the well-seasoned beef. Paired with a cold lager for Terry and a smooth Argentinian red wine for me, it nearly felt like home…
Australian style meat pie
Adapted from The Robert Carrier Cookbook
4-6 thick slices beef shins (or 1.5 kg chuck steak cut into bite sized pieces)
3 tbsp plain flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
5 tbsp butter
1 large yellow onion finely chopped
1 carrot finely chopped
1 celery stick finely chopped
500 ml rich beef stock
1tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 bay leaf
2 tsp parsley chopped
Flaky pastry (for the lid – see below)
Rich raised pie crust (for the base – see below)
1- Make a rich raised pie crust as directed below. Butter a deep pie dish and line it with pastry. Keep cool in the fridge.
2- Mix flour, salt and ½ tsp ground black pepper and roll the beef shins in this mixture.
3- Melt butter in a thick bottom saucepan ( or a pressure cooker, like I do). Add the beef shins one at a time and brown them thoroughly, turning them over often. When all the shins have been browned, keep them aside while you saute the finely chopped onion, carrot and celery until soft, for about 5 minutes. Add back the beef shins and their juices in the saucepan/pressure cooker, moisten with the beef stock and the Worcesteshire sauce, add remaining black pepper, bay leaf and chopped parsley
4- Stir, cover, bring to the boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook on low for 1 ½ hour ( if using a pressure cooker, wait until the valve “whistles” then reduce to a simmer, and cook on low for ¾ hour).
5- The meat should be very tender. Shred it from the shin bones ( or leave it in chunks if using boneless chuck steak). Allow meat to cool in its own liquid.
6- In the meantime, make a flaky pastry crust as directed below.
7- When cool enough, add meat and liquid to pastry lined pie dish. Place the flaky pastry crust over the meat, moistening and pinching edges to the dish. Make vents in the pastry to allow steam to escape and bake in a hot oven at 230C/450F for 10 minutes. Lower heat to moderate 190C/375F and continue baking for 20 minutes or until pastry crust is golden brown. Serves 6-8
275 g plain flour
Good pinch of salt
Squeeze of lemon juice
200 g butter
1- Sieve flour and salt into a clean, dry bowl and add lemon juice.
2- Divide butter into 4 equal parts. Take one of these pieces and rub it into the flour with the tips of your fingers until mixture is free from lumps (it is vital the butter is very cold and you work quickly, if the butter starts melting or your hands are too warm, it turns into a mess! Alternatively, use a food processor and use the pulse setting)
3- Then add just enough iced water to form dough into one lump. Do not over handle.
4- Turn onto a floured board, knead lightly until smooth and roll into a long narrow strip, approx. 6mm thick.
5- Take one of the remaining portions of butter and with the tip of a knife put it in even rows of small pieces all over the pastry, leaving 25mm margin without butter around the edges. (that’s where it gets tricky: if butter is too hard, it will make ugly lumps, work it on a plate first; if butter is too soft, it will ooze out in a mess, refrigerate it first)
6- Flour the surface lightly. Fold the pastry exactly in 3, like a letter. Turn the pastry ½ round, bringing the joins to the right hand side, and press the folds down sharply with the rolling pin so as to enclose some air.
7- Roll the pastry out again into a long narrow strip, and proceed as before until the 2 remaining portions of butter have been used (again, make sure the butter doesn’t become too soft during the rolling, cool the pastry in the fridge if necessary between turns)
8- The last time, roll the pastry out to the desired thickness, if it needs widening, turn it across the board and roll across.
9- Wrap in gladwrap and rest in the fridge for ½ hour (It will keep it there for several days. Bring back to room temperature for 20mn before using again) .
Rich raised pie crust
225 plain flour
½ tsp salt
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp duck fat (or lard)
1 egg yolk
Water (up to 150ml)
1- Sieve the flour and salt, rub in the butter and the duck fat (or lard) until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. (I sometimes use the food processor on pulse setting when I don’t want my hands to get dirty!))
2- Bind together with the egg yolk and a little water, keeping the pastry as dry as possible.
3- Knead well, wrap in gladwrap and rest in the fridge for ½ hour. (This pastry will keep there for a few days while wrapped. Bring back to room temperature for 20mn before using again.)
Last month mood was very mellow. August being a holiday month for everyone, we basically “closed the shop”, and retired inside. With most of our friends in Puerto gone on vacation and our kids back to home schooling, life has been quiet: no dinner parties, no trips away, a couple of casual dinners out to patronise the local restaurants but hardly anything to write about. Being in the middle of the hurricane season, we sat thru a couple of storms, too mild to be dangerous, still strong enough to keep us indoors.
Boat bound, and wanting a distraction from Grade 4 assignments and constant rain, I decided it was the perfect occasion to clean out our cold storage, and use up whatever meat and other frozen stuff had accumulated in our freezers over the past year or so. It felt like a Masterchef mystery box challenge: duck breasts, Italian sausages, NZ mussels, , Australian lamb, cookies and cream ice-cream,…what on earth could we do with all this? Looking for new ideas and inspiration, I turned to some of my favourite food blogs: Dinner a love story always makes me smile, 101 Cookbooks has enough recipes to turn me into a vegetarian (one day…) and if you really want to know how to while away a rainy afternoon, grab a nice cup of coffee and browse thru Food 52 ( I dare you not to spend an obscene amount of time looking thru recipes, funny stories and gorgeous Instagrams! I have).
Luckily our fresh fruits and vegetable market is only a short walk from the boat, so with a head full of ideas, working out dinner was a matter of picking what looked best on the day, and play matchmaker in the galley!
That’s how the duck magrets were paired with sweet potato slices, guacamole and fresh tomato salsa,
the Italian sausages found a perfect partner in cheesy polenta,
the mussels happily swam in a Portuguese style stew, thick with tomatoes and chickpeas
and the lamb teamed beautifully with cauliflower “rice” and steamed green beans. As for the ice cream, I finally got around to make ice cream sandwiches, thanks to the half opened packet of coconut cookies the kids had left laying around. What a perfect snack for unexpected guests!
You’d think I would have rushed to re-stock our clean and empty freezers, but I liked the idea of a minimalist pantry (sort of) and thought: why not use some of our dry goods for a while, just buying fresh produce when necessary? Couscous, rice, beans, canned tuna, olives, nuts…all found their way in semi-vegetarian dishes. We ended up eating tons of salads, some fancy like this spinach salad with couscous
that oyster mushrooms and avocado salad
or even my own “everything but the kitchen sink salad” concoction
Staring at the quantities of flour I had purchased in the US, I also obsessed about using it before it reached its use by date, so embarked on a breadmaking experiment. This proved to be the most frustrating and infuriating exercise, as no two breads ever came out the same. Some way worse than others, for which I blamed the high Mexican humidity, but Terry reminded me that I used different recipes each time. Ooops! I could not help it, I had to try: Buttermilk and Maple Syrup bread, Olive oil bread, Simple French loaf,… Ok, the Buttermilk and Maple syrup failed as a bread, however, it made a wonderful base for Bread and Butter pudding (just needed to add lots of cream, butter, extra sugar and a good handful of sultanas). The Olive oil bread was pretty good on its own, but was 10 times better when toasted and filled with left over roast pork (and since I happened to have pickles, swiss cheese and American mustard in the fridge, we ended up with our own version of a Cuban sandwich)
Have I made a dent in my provisions? A little. The freezer is nearly empty (one lonely lobster remaining, waiting for a worthwhile plate companion). So mission is not quite accomplished yet, but I found there is something uplifting about using what is at hand. It forces you to think (and cook) outside the box, try new produce, new techniques, new pairings…. I like to imagine my galley is going thru its own detox! And not to be outdone, Terry joined in the cleansing spirit and has kept the drink fridge empty for the past 4 weeks. Now I wonder how long we could keep going this way?