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.

July Happenings

Lunch  by the Sea. Waiting...

Lunch by the sea. Waiting…

There is something you must know about me: I am a diary-kind of person. It started as a kid in France, when we were made to keep a school diary (emploi du temps), where the daily homework was copied from the blackboard and had to be checked and signed off by Mum or Dad. That went on thru high school, then University, though no parent’s signatures were required any longer. Thus was planted the habit of planning for the next day, week or month and it has followed me ever since. I only keep one diary at any one time and while in my earlier adults years, the entries were mostly about appointments, deadlines, and phone numbers; over time I have included various notes on things of interests,  like a written version of a Pinterest board…Nowadays, open any page and you will find: bills to pay, money for the kids, teachers appointments as well as reminders to call my mum, restaurant to book, menu plan, shopping lists… That’s any given day. When planning a crossing, I need a separate diary just for cruise preparations!

Why I am telling you all this? Because that’s how my brain works, and without diaries, lists, or procedures I would probably forget half of what I’m supposed to do, or the order of which things need to be done. I would let myself be distracted by my children asking to go to the beach or my husband setting up on the deck for a sunset drink! Actually I do get distracted. A lot. But thanks to my diary, I can remember what I did last month and share with you some of our July Happenings in the galley…

Last month’s cooking mood was French, Bastille Day being the theme for most of our meals. Inspired by Manger a beautiful blog I stumbled upon (more on that in another post) and French Rendez-Vous, a French Designer fashion boutique newly opened in Brisbane by a dear French friend of mine, I kind of felt a longing for all things French. Some days, we ate something simple like omelette & mushrooms  Omelette and salads

or vegetable soup & grilled cheese tartines.

Other days I subjected the family to full on experiments such as marinated tofu Marinated Tofu

or sweet potato bread

Sweet Potato Bread

(not very French, but the ingredients were in the fridge!).

And of course we had fantastic dinner parties with non-French guests, so I really went to town: fricassee of chicken (which is French for Chicken casserole, really), bacon-wrapped baked chicken, BBQ pork ribs, All-green salad, Plum cake, Apple tart

French Apple Tart,

All chocolate cake…

All Chocolate Cake

Some of the dishes were “blog worthy” and I’ll post a recipe (you’ll have to guess which one!), others either need more work (read cook again!) or were just too “mehhhhh” to even bother any further.

It’s not to say that we forgot about the rest of the world so we also duly celebrated American July 4th with cheeseburgers and National Tequila Day with margaritas on our favourite beach. See how international we are!!!! Now let’s try detoxing a little in August…stay tuned.

The funny thing about living away from your home country is that we are forever looking for signs or occasions to remind us of what we left behind. Well, I am anyway. Over the years, my memories of France tend to be more on the positive side (the food, the beautiful country side, the fashion, the indulgent lifestyle…) rather than the gloomy issues which no doubt did and would irritate me if I still lived there (the stress, the economy, the pollution…).

As much as I love travelling and have embraced different cultures with gusto, occasionally I feel homesick for France. Terry thinks that it is the idea of France that I pine for rather than France itself. And maybe he’s right, because though every trip back there is great, I always feel glad to leave again. I am sure there is some deep psychological meaning to all this, which I won’t delve into.

So it is that July 14th is always a big deal on our boat. It is Bastille Day, French National Day, which in France is celebrated with a military parade on Paris’s Avenue of the Champs-Elysees, and countless “bals musettes” and fireworks in the country towns and villages. I can’t remember anything special about the food, except delicious summer fare enjoyed al fresco with copious amounts of wine. If a boat is a miniature version of your own country (like an embassy, right?), then I like to transform VOAHANGY into a French territory on that day. Even more so than other days.

July 14th also happens to be Pandemonium Day and National Nude Day (I am not making this up!), and it was suggested to me that I was very close to score the perfect trifecta with a galley in disarray already, a French menu planned for dinner, all that was required was for me to cook naked. I didn’t win the trifecta, I wore an apron. But we celebrated everything else! And because it is more fun to eat with company, I invited my neighbour, Carol and her family who had never heard of Bastille Day (or Pandemonium and Nude Days either!)

On to the menu. It was a hot and sweltering summer’s day, so I wanted a cold starter. I had 5 adults and 5 teenagers, not sure of their likes and dislikes so had to play it safe with the main course. And dessert had to be a family favourite (always, I almost never do dessert experiments when I have guests, it needs to be tried and true). So this is what we ended up with: Chilled Asparagus Soup, Baked Bacon-Wrapped Chicken and Roast Potatoes, Apple Tart. Of course, we drank French Champagne and Bordeaux wines, and by the end of the night the boat was in complete pandemonium but in a happy kind of way!!!

Baked bacon-wrapped Chicken and Roast potatoes in the making

Baked bacon-wrapped Chicken and Roast potatoes in the making

Baked bacon-wrapped chicken and Roast potatoes

This is so simple to cook, I would call it more a method than a recipe. Also, when cooking chicken pieces and potatoes, you will note the quantities are in pieces rather than weight as I find it easier to visualise how much people eat this way.

For 10 people:

  • 20-25 chicken thighs (2 per person and extras for the hungrier teenagers!) preferably boneless, but bone-in is OK.
  • 20-25 thin bacon rashers
  • 2 red onions, peeled and quartered
  • 4 ripe plum tomatoes, quartered
  • A few pinches of dried thyme (or fresh thyme if you have)

Preheat an oven at 200C/400F/gas mark 6

Wrap one bacon rasher around a chicken thigh, making sure the loose end is tucked underneath. Place on a baking tray, previously lined with parchment paper. Repeat the process for the rest of the bacon/chicken. You will need 2 baking trays.

Tuck tomatoes and onions quarters tightly between the chicken parcels (don’t worry if it looks really tight, they will shrink as they cook!). Sprinkle thyme, salt and pepper all over.

Bake for 45 minutes or until the chicken parcels are golden and crispy looking (check for doneness by sticking a knife in, once is enough, and ensure juices run clear, not pink).

There is no need for olive oil or liquid to be added. The chicken skin and bacon combined release enough fat and juices to make a delicious clear gravy to pour over the potatoes!

Roast Potatoes

My favourite way of preparing spuds, no peeling, no mess, it can be cooked in the oven at the same time as the chicken.

For 10 people:

  • 20-25 medium sized potatoes, washed and dried.
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • A handful of dried Herbs de Provence (or any other combination you have on hand, garlic powder works a treat too!)
  • Salt

Preheat an oven to 200C/400F/Gas mark 6

In a very large bowl, combine olive oil and dried herbs. Cut potatoes in quarters, place them in the bowl and toss until all pieces are covered with the oil/herbs mixture.

Transfer the vegetables onto a parchment-lined baking tray, sprinkle with salt and slide this in the oven.

Bake for 45 minutes or until golden on the outside and soft on the inside.

** Both these dishes can be prepared a few hours in advance, kept in the fridge until ready to bake. The quantities can be adjusted up or down to suit the number of guests, same with the cooking times.

Welcome to my galley!

welcome to my galley - 1

Welcome to my Galley!

First things first: the galley is to a boat what the kitchen is to a house. Our current boat is a 56ft catamaran, which is a very comfortable size as far as boats go. Some traditional yachties will probably say that my galley is so large, it should be called a kitchen, but personally I’ll stick to the lingo. Besides, it may be spacious for a boat, but still is limited compared to a house.

The galley is where you will find me most of the time, whether we are cruising or not. I had no input in the design of the latest one, but appreciate a lot of its features: full size gas oven/grill, domestic fridge/freezers, wine racks ( what else would you expect from a French built boat?), deep double sinks, soft closing drawers, and tons of bench space (for a boat that is…) As you can see, we even have an island, how luxurious! My biggest challenge is keeping this space clutter free, available for prep. Also, being part of the saloon and opening onto the back deck, any mess is in full view of the rest of the crew. Not very attractive when you have guests around. That’s when I wish we had a dishwasher (the option is available), where I could hide everything! Maybe next boat…

This picture was taken during our Transatlantic crossing, nearly 2 years ago. The fish weren’t biting that day, so we settled for Hamburgers served with crisps (as opposed to hot chips, I don’t deep fry at sea !!)

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