August Happenings

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.

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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!

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That’s how the duck magrets were paired with sweet potato slices, guacamole and fresh tomato salsa,

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the Italian sausages found a perfect partner in cheesy polenta,

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the mussels happily swam in a Portuguese style stew, thick with tomatoes and chickpeas

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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

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that oyster mushrooms and avocado salad

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or even my own “everything but the kitchen sink salad” concoction

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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)

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bread and butter pudding with maple and buttermilk bread blog

 

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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?

The Humble Omelette

Lets go back to the days when my cooking skills were inexistent. Actually, I could boil rice, which hardly counts as a gourmet prowess though it goes a long way towards sustenance.

When faced with the task of learning to cook, where do you start? These were the late 1980’s, pre-internet days, so forget googling recipes or join food forums. I had no family and very few friends in Australia, international phone calls cost nearly $2/minute therefor calling Mum for family recipes was out of question. So I bought The Robert Carrier Cookbook, which was perfect for 2 reasons: the blurb on the back cover stated “if you have only one cookery book on your shelf, make it this one”, and even though it was nearly 900 pages, it was the size of a paperback, so would not take space on the boat.

This is the most comprehensive cookbook I could find at the time, it covers everything from Choosing your menu, to How to set up your kitchen, All about beef, and even Christmas fare. His chapter on Souffles alone has 22 pages!  Unlike most books nowadays, there is not a single photograph, which at times was unnerving, when I had no idea  how the dish was supposed to turn out.

One meal I had no problem picturing though was an omelette. A standard fare in France, I had eaten omelette nature hundreds of time, just never cooked one. Until I read Robert Carrier’s recipe, which not only included the most simple ingredients (eggs, butter) but also described the technique used to produce the perfect basic omelette (it’s in the lifting and the sliding!).

After purchasing a dedicated pan*, I practised and practised for days, using Terry and his daughters as guinea pigs. Then one night, we had unexpected guests, and with nothing in the fridge but eggs, I offered my humble omelettes as an impromptu dinner. It was such a success, my neighbour  asked for the recipe! I find it so quick and easy to make, over the years it’s been my go-to dish when pressed for time or ideas. That’s the first thing I taught my kids to cook, when they were old enough to handle a hot pan. An individual omelette is the quintessential fast-food on the boat!

*my omelette pan has followed me from boats to boats. It is a heavy duty non skid pan, 20cm wide with rounded slides, so the omelette can slide easily onto the plate when cooked.

Individual French Omelette Adapted from The Robert Carrier Cookbook

Serves 1.

2 eggs

1 tbsp water

Salt

Butter

1tbsp whipped egg white (optional)

  1. Beat eggs with water until well mixed. Add salt to taste.
  2. Heat butter until sizzling in a preheated omelette pan. Remove pan from heat and pour in egg mixture.
  3. Return to heat and quickly stir eggs for a second or two to assure even cooking.
  4. As eggs begin to set , lift edges with a fork or spatula so that the liquid can run under. Repeat until liquid is all used up but the eggs are still moist and soft. All the while, shake the pan to keep the eggs from sticking (alternatively, run a thin spatula gently underneath)
  5. When eggs are set, roll omelette on to a warm plate by tilting the pan starting it away from edge at one side with a fork and letting it roll over itself.

This is a plain omelette. Variations are endless, here are some of suggestions from our crew.

Add between step 4 and 5:

–          Grated cheese and chopped ham or fried bacon ( our 10 year old daughter)

Anne's favourite, it is child's play really...

Anne’s favourite, it is child’s play really…

–          Grated carrots, shallots, bean sprouts, and a splash of soya sauce (from me)

The perfect quick meal after a day at the beach!

The perfect quick meal after a day at the beach!

–          Buttered mushrooms and garlic (from Terry)

–          Left over bacon and potatoes, finely chopped (from our 15 year old son).

 

 

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My daughter’s favourite: banana, vanilla yogurt, apple juice. Real sugar kick!

So far, August has not been the quiet month I expected for a detox. Too many hot days, children on holidays, cooking experiments leading to impromptu gatherings leading to too many “dates with bottles of wine” as my friend Monica would say. It’s not for lack of trying and in an effort to kick start the day in some virtous kind of way, I have enrolled the assistance of my trusted blender. So every second day or so ( depending on everyone’s mood and the state of the fridge supplies!), I make smoothies for breakfast.

Not only do they taste good, but they’re so healthy you can feel yourself actually coming back to life as you drink it (well, I do, anyway). The blender I use is a monster I acquired in the US, called a Mix n Blend II by Blendtec. It’s a pretty heavy duty machine, a bit of an over kill for blending smoothies, but I wanted an appliance that could also crush ice and also mill/grind grains, in case I fancied making my own flour on the boat ( that hasn’t happened yet, in the 2 years we’ve been at sea!) Oh, and it has a mixing bowl too, so that’s what I use for making bread and cakes. But I digress. The reason I mention this, is that running this blender early in the morning causes such a racket, it wakes up the kids. How is that as an added bonus?

Now for the smoothies. We’ve experimented with fruits and vegetables, and fruits win hands down in the morning. Spinach and celery green power shakes at 7am have never found any takers on this boat I am afraid. Ok, here’s what goes in (for 4 serves):

1 banana, either fresh or frozen. It adds thickness and sweetness to the shake, and if using frozen you don’t need ice cubes. ( Tip: do not throw your overripe bananas, cut them in 1” chunks and freeze them)

1 cup plain yoghurt, unflavoured and unsweetened (in Mexico, look for yogurt natural sin azucar, as yogurt natural comes loaded with sugar)

2 cups of fresh fruits, whatever is on hand. In Mexico, we use mainly tropical items, like mangoes, pineapples, rockmelons. Anywhere else, strawberries, apples, peaches, nectarines…Whole citrus fruits do not work (trust me, they will turn the whole thing in a mushy mess!) And any berries with large seeds (rasperries, blackberries,…) will give a gritty texture to the shake. We don’t like that. Oh, and if you use melons, then skip the bananas, the 2 flavours don’t go so well together in my opinion.

½ cup of orange, lemon or lime juice, my kids like apple juice but that’s too sweet for my liking

100 ml natural sweetener like maple syrup (my favourite), honey or agave syrup

A small handful of mint when we have (it goes beautifully with pineapple or melons)

3 or 4 ice cubes ( any more and you’ll need a spoon to scoop it out)

Blend on the smoothies/shake setting if your blender has one, otherwise at low speed for 10 seconds then high speed for another 10 seconds or so until everything is nice and smooth. Enjoy!

 

Loading up for the latest smoothie sensation: rockmelon, mint, yogurt, maple syrup, a squeeze of lime...

Loading up for the latest smoothie sensation: rockmelon, mint, yogurt, maple syrup, a squeeze of lime…

I give you "veloute de melon" which is French for rockmelon smoothie, sounds more sophisticated that way!

I give you “veloute de melon” which is French for rockmelon smoothie, sounds more sophisticated that way!

 

When simple is sometimes the best

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I’ve always said that what I love about our travelling is the opportunity to experience new and different cultures first hand.  Learning languages, tasting exotic foods…total immersion is the way to go in my books.  But meeting new people has to be on top of the list of “by-products” of our global roaming.  Locals, holidaymakers , fellow cruisers or relocated expats…Puerto Aventuras, where we have been for the past 6 months, is a big village full of fascinating people.

A few weekends ago we invited an American family over for a BBQ on the boat. As often happens these days,  the kids met first  and forged relationships, and it wasn’t until 3 months later that we made the parents’ acquaintance at a house party. We hit it  off, Terry and Joe sharing the same interest for flying and business, Kelly and I swapping travel stories and “the joy of taking your family along”  anecdotes. They had many guests to attend that day, so we parted with a promise to get together again and chat some more. Soon. Life went on, both our families busy with school and boat issues (us), or business travel (them).  It took another 3 months  to find the time to resume our previous chat, which turned out to be even more fascinating than the first! Our floating home and lifestyle is always a source of  curiosity for people, and a first time visit  on board invariably  includes a guided tour and answers to many “how do you…??”  type of questions.  From weather to anchorages, engineering issues to our favourite destinations, we’re always happy to share our experience. But my favourite has to be when asked about fishing and food! We have so many fishing stories and recipes to share, I could write a book  about it. Until I do, I am happy to include fish on the menu whenever we have guests.

We were lucky  to have scored  some mahi-mahi fillets (dorado/dolphin fish) from a friend’s boat the day before, freshly frozen only a few days ago (i.e. frozen immediately after being caught). I had a craving for sashimi, but  you need super fresh fish for that (read, not defrosted). So the mahi-mahi would require cooking, but still,  I wanted a starter with the texture of raw fish. Challenge? I poured over my collection of cookbooks (the ones Terry allowed me to take on board, the other 100 are  in storage in Sydney) and found this recipe for pepper-crusted tataki with hoisin vinaigrette, in the book Terrific Pacific by Anya Von Bremzen. Terry bought it for me as a gift 17 years ago, before setting off on our first Pacific crossing. A brilliant collection of recipes from South East Asia, it has become my bible, evidenced by the many dog ear marked curry stained pages, all held together by an elastic band. The original recipe calls for fresh yellowfin tuna, covered in a spicy pepper paste. I substituted the mahi-mahi and omitted the pepper paste as one of our guests suffers from severe food allergies. The fish had to be plain. The key is in the method of cooking: it’s seared very quickly in a dry skillet, wrapped in plastic wrap, and allowed to finish “cooking” to just the right degree of doneness. Paired with an oriental flavoured dressing, and served on corn chips (for a Mexican twist! ), it made for a delicious appetiser, the boys fighting over the last piece.

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In keeping with the plain BBQ theme,  we grilled some pork spare ribs and chicken thighs, baked some potatoes,  all  simply sprinkled with salt and pepper. The colour accents were provided courtesy of a spinach and tomato salad, and bowls of papaya chutney.  Dessert in comparison was rich, a luscious coconut flan bathed in caramel which the still hungry adored, but our food sensitive guest could not have. Note to self: find a dairy-free, egg-free, version for the next time.

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Pepper–Crusted Tataki of Mahi-Mahi  with Hoisin Vinaigrette  

Adapted from Terrific Pacific, by Anya Von bremzen

Serves 4

1 ½  tbsp green peppercorn (optional)

1 ½ tbsp black peppercorn (optional)

1 ½ tbsp pink peppercorn (optional)

2 ½ tbsp virgin olive oil

2 pieces fresh mahi-mahi or yellowfin tuna ( defrosted frozen is Ok, as long as there are no freezer burns)

  1. Rub the olive oil all over the fish.
  2. If using the peppercorns:  using a mortar and pestle or small food processor, grind the peppercorns with the oil to a paste. Spread the mixture over the fish, cover and refrigerate for 4 hours.
  3. Preheat the grill or the skillet.
  4. Grill the fish just to sear, about 1 minute on each side. Wrap in plastic wrap, allow to cool, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.  Slice into medium-thin slices.
  5. To serve as finger food: lay the fish slices on a platter, serve a pile of corn chips or wonton wrapper and the hoisin vinaigrette separately. To eat, dip a fish slice in the vinaigrette and place on a chip.To serve as a starter: divide some salad greens among 4 plates, fan out the fish slices and drizzle with the vinaigrette.

Hoisin Vinaigrette

Makes 2/3 cup

2 tsp hoisin sauce

1 ½ tsp soy sauce

1 ½ Dijon mustard

2 tbsp white wine vinegar

1 small clove garlic, crushed

2 tsps minced fresh ginger

1 ½ tsp ground white pepper

Salt, to taste

6 tbsp light olive oil or neutral vegetable oil (do not use virgin or extra virgin, too strong!)

In a bowl, mix together the hoisin sauce, soy sauce, mustard, vinegar, garlic , ginger, salt and pepper. Slowly drizzle in the oil, whisking until emulsified. Let stand for 30 minutes for the flavors to develop.

Going all out for chocolate!

In my last post I promised I would share the recipes of blog worthy dishes. Boy, are you in for a treat today…

A month ago, friends invited us for a BBQ at their place and I volunteered to bring the dessert. I must confess to being naturally drawn to savoury dishes, perhaps because one can be approximate with ingredients and measurements and still end up with good results. Not so for desserts, in particular the types that involve baking. Cake making to me is akin to a science experiment, a million miles away from my “throw a bit of this in, sprinkle some of that on, cook until it’s done” style. For years I steered away from baking, too hard. Then I had children, and it seemed selfish to me to deprive them of the joy of eating homemade cakes and pastries. So I set out to learn how to bake. I studied the different ratios between eggs-flour-butter, the effects of oven temperature, types of flour, folding and whipping techniques, submitting  family and friends to tastings with mixed results…After 15 years of trial and errors, I can’t say that baking is one of my strong culinary points, I still have massive failures however thanks to endless practise,  I’ve also enjoyed spectacular success. One of them is Moelleux au chocolat (flourless chocolate cake) which features prominently on my dessert repertoire, as the most popular cake with kids and grown ups alike.

Back to last month. It was World Chocolate Day, so I knew I had to go all out for a chocolate dessert.  Since I had all day to bake, without the time pressure of cooking a whole dinner, I decided to take up my usual Moelleux recipe a notch. So I pulled out my Laduree Sucre cookbook  looking for inspiration. I bought it while we were in New York last year, and find it so pretty in its pale green velvet cover, I’ve  liked to read it more than cook out of it. Founded in 1862, Laduree started as a bakery in the very heart of Paris, later transformed into a restaurant tea salon,  with pretty boutiques  opening all over the world over the years ( Sydney’s very own only opened 10 months ago!). It’s famous for its macarons, but you should see what other douceurs (sweets) they make!  10 years ago I would have only dreamed of eating them, let along cooking them. Nowadays I am a bit more confident, so I put my pastry chef apron and went for it.

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The inspiration for today’s dessert

I couldn’t decide between the Gateau Moelleux au Chocolat and the Tarte Tout Chocolat, so decided to combine both! To be truthful, I started with the Moelleux, which looked good on its own, but my version came out of the oven more or less a soufflé, with the top sinking and leaving a crater-like hole in the middle. That’s how I came up with the idea of the ganache to fill  the void, and why not top it up with shavings of more chocolate and cocoa powder. Add a few Ferrero chocolate and coconut balls for decoration, if you have ,and voila!

Though not very complicated to execute, this cake takes time and care to do properly. Allow 30 minutes for cooking and a couple of hours for each prep and rest. Lastly, it needs to be kept in a cool, dry place  if you don’t want it to melt on you ( obvious I know, but I thought I’d remind you ).  And yes, it is a very rich dessert, involving copious amounts of butter, eggs, chocolate, cream and sugar. But it didn’t stop the guests from fighting over it, and our host to jealously guard the last remaining slice (she assured me it tasted better the next day!)

Chocolate food coma is guaranteed, you have been warned…

My version, yummy!!!

My version, yummy!!!

All Chocolate cake.  Adapted from Laduree Sucre

Serves 8-10

Moelleux au Chocolat :

10 ½ tbsp/ 150g butter + 1 ½ tbsp butter for cake pan

¼ cup / 35g cake flour + 2 ½ tbsp cake flour for cake pan

5 oz / 150g chocolate (minimum 70% cacao solids)

1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

1 egg + 4 egg yolks + 7 egg whites

¾ cup / 150g granulated sugar

  1. Butter a 9 inch / 22.5cm diameter cake pan and refrigerate for 5mn to allow the butter to set. Remove from the fridge and dust the interior with flour. Turn upside down and lightly tap out any excess flour. Keep in the fridge. Chop the chocolate . Place in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Add the butter and melt together over very low heat, stirring with a spatula. Remove from heat.
  2. Sift together the chocolate powder and flour. Set aside.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350 deg F/ 180 deg C.  In a large mixing bowl placed over a pot of simmering water, whisk together the egg, egg yolks and half the sugar (75g), until the mixture thickens. Remove from the heat and set aside. Whisk the egg whites to a foam in another large clean dry bowl. Once they are white and frothy, incorporate the remaining half of the sugar (75g) while continuing to whisk for another minute.
  4. Gently fold a third of the egg and sugar mixture into the melted chocolate and butter. Pour the entire mixture back over the remaining  2/3 of the eggs and sugar, mixing gently. Fold a third of the whipped egg whites, along with the sifted flour and chocolate powder, into the above mixture. Pour this new mixture then back over the remaining 2/3 of whipped egg whites. Combine all together until smooth, careful not to overmix.
  5. Pour batter into the cake pan. Place in oven and lower the temperature to 340 deg C / 170 deg C. bake for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 30mn before removing from the pan.

Chocolate Ganache & Decoration :

10 ½  oz / 300g chocolate (65-75% cacao solids)

1 ¼ cups / 300ml whipping cream

7 tbsp / 100g butter

1 bar chocolate  (the best you can find, all I had was a Hershey’s Dark Chocolate, it worked fine!)

  1. Bring the butter to room temperature. Chop the chocolate and place in a large bowl. In a saucepan, bring the cream to a boil. Pour half of the boiling cream over the chocolate in one pour and whisk in a circular motion to emulsify the mixture. Add the remaining boiled cream and whisk in the same manner.
  2. Cut the butter into small pieces and add to the ganache. Using a spatula, stir until smooth.
  3. Pour the ganache onto the cooled moelleux ( the top will have sunk like a crater once the cake cooled). Fill to the very top. Allow to rest for 30 mn to set.
  4. Decorate the cake with chocolate shavings. Scrape the side of the chocolate bar with the back of a knife or a mandoline to make fine shavings. Shave directly over the cake to avoid having to handle the chocolate. Dust lightly with cocoa powder.
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