Earlier this month we spent 18 days in Cartagena, on Colombia’s Atlantic coast. It was a technical stop, to work on the boat rather than for tourism. Still, we all had to eat and I found that scouting for local produce was a perfect distraction to the frustration of life in a shipyard.

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When I asked friends in Mexico about Colombian cooking, I was told there was lots of rice.  And indeed, rice is served with everything. It is a staple eaten for lunch and dinner, prepared in dozens of ways (plain, coconut, chicken, seafood, beans, mixed…) and served along side dishes like pasta, potatoes, beans, yucca or plaintain. Colombians think  nothing of heaping their plate with 2 lots of carbs, and green vegetables seem to be an afterthought. It is an acquired taste, my teenage son thought he was in heaven, I learnt quickly to share an order with Terry as servings are generally large.

Work lunch: grilled steak, pasta, rice and salad

Work lunch: grilled steak, pasta, rice and salad

Our first trip to the supermarket was an eye opener: I expected to find tortillas and chilis like in Mexico, but found rows upon rows of deep-fried snacks : arrepas ( corn cakes made flat or filled, sweet or savoury, with cheese or butter…), empanadas (meat turnovers), deditos de queso (cheese fingers), plaintain chips (cooking, bananas), chicharrones (crispy pork rind), even something called piglets (fried green plaintains filled with chicharrones and refried into crispy balls!) The healthiest option were tamales or fresh fruit salad. And that was for morning tea.

 

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Morning tea Cartagena style: egg filled arrepa and beef empenada. have it with strong coffee!

 

Then we moved on to lunch. I took the easy way out, and ordered take away: roast chicken and boiled potatoes, work lunches of grilled meat, rice and soup from the shipyard canteen…nothing fancy, but perfectly suited to our circumstances. We did eat out a couple of times to sample more “elaborate” Colombian food: once with the kids to a forgettable steak house, and another one with Terry to a restaurant called Mar de las Antillas where we feasted on regional specialties like fish medallions in garlic sauce, ceviche, name and cheese soup, brown coconut rice and plaintain fritters (double carbs again!). A combination of Caribbeans and South American fare, meat also features heavily but the cuts are very different to what we’re used to: the beef is not as tender, and the pork definitely on the fattier side ( coming from someone who loves pork belly, that says a lot! ) I would have loved to sample the desserts but was too full.

 

 

Canteen lunch at the shipyard: baked chicken, rice, potatoes, coriander soup and melon juice

Canteen lunch at the shipyard: baked chicken, rice, potatoes, coriander soup and melon juice

 

Gourmet lunch: name & queso soup, brown coconut rice, fish in garlic sauce...feeling stuffed!

Gourmet lunch: name & queso soup, brown coconut rice, fish in garlic sauce…feeling stuffed!

 

Ceviche always!

Ceviche always!

And don’t Colombians love their sweets! In a country that grows so much coffee, rice, corn and sugarcane, is it such a surprise to find super sweet desserts like dulce de leche (caramel), cocodas (coconut balls) , fruit jellies, flan de coco (coconut custard)… Just take a stroll down the Portal de los Dulces in the old Town and try to resist these sugary temptations displayed in glass jars. Or answer the call of street vendors selling tropical fruits all cut up into pieces in sealed plastic bags, ready to eat as finger food.

Sweet snacks to go in the old city

Sweet snacks to go in the old city

 

2 weeks on, the technical issues are becoming mere anecdotes, we will end up joking about, but the food memories will linger and provide inspiration long after. Last week, I found that all we had in the fridge was left over rice and pork spare ribs (a product of me cooking enough for 8, catering for the possible extra guests…as if , in an anchorage!). Remembering how Colombian accommodate rice a dozen ways, I came up with my own version of Arroz Mixto, rice with pork, with the addition of snow peas for greenery, chicharrones for crunch and fried eggs for that extra gooeyness.

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Pork Rice and Snow Peas

(serves 4)

4 cups cooked rice

2 cups left over cooked pork spare ribs or pork belly with rind on

1 onion, chopped

1 garlic clove, crushed

200g snow peas

4 eggs

2 tbsp olive oil

¼ cup soya sauce

4 tbsp coriander

For the chicharonnes: cut off the rind of the spare ribs, rub with salt, lay in a baking tray lined with parchment paper and bake in a hot oven for 10-15 minutes. They will render some fat but since they’re already cooked they won’t take long to crisp up, just watch they don’t burn, as some of mine did!

For the rice: heat olive oil in a wok on medium-high heat, add chopped onion and crushed garlic, sauté for 2-3 minutes. Add pork sliced, stir, cover and cook for 5 minutes. Uncover, stir in the cooked rice, the soya sauce and cook over low heat for another 5-10 minutes. In the meantime, blanch the snow peas , and add to rice mixture for the last 2 minutes of cooking. Keep warm, while you fry the eggs, making sure the yolks remain soft.

To serve:  place the rice mixture on individual plates. Top with a fried egg, a sprinkle of coriander and a couple of pieces of chicharrones. Season to taste. My son likes to mix the egg in and turn this dish into a creamy risotto-kind, my daughter prefers to dip the chicharrones in the egg yolk little soldiers-style. Your choice. Enjoy!

 

Two years ago, we had the good fortune to spend 6 months cruising around the Eastern Caribbeans. From the Grenadines to the Bahamas, thru the French islands of Martinique, Guadeloupe and St Barth, the yacht mecca of Antigua, luxurious Mustique…the sailing was brilliant and the food even better!

One of our favourite islands was Dominica, not only for its lush and green interior, but also for its happy and friendly people. While anchored in Prince Rupert Bay, the boat boys would come around everyday offering fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as live lobsters which they would sell for a few dollars. These became our standard fare, I cooked them in many different ways: grilled, boiled, in curries, in salads, and crumbed as in the following recipe. Lobster, mango, chili and lime…the tropics on a plate!

*this recipe is also very good with fish fillets, if lobster is unavailable. Use firm white fish like mahi-mahi or cod.

Crumbed lobster medallions with mango and chili coleslaw

 

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 mango peeled, seeded and chopped

1 red shallot

½ cucumber

1 tsp red chili chopped

½ head of cabbage, shredded

A handful of basil leaves

¼ cup sweet chili sauce

1 tbsp fish sauce

Juice of 2 limes

2 lobster tails, shelled and cut into medallions

2 eggs beaten

1 cup fine breadcrumbs

 

  1. Mix the first 5 ingredients in a large bowl
  2. Whisk together sweet chili sauce, fish sauce and lime juice. Add to the salad, mix well, leave at room temperature for 1 hour.
  3. Place the beaten eggs and the breadcrumbs in separate bowls.
  4. When the salad is ready, dip each lobster medallion in eggs first, then roll in the breadcrumbs until all covered.
  5. In a skillet, heat 2 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat. Pan fry the lobster pieces until golden brown, about 3 mn on each side.
  6. Serve immediately with the coleslaw, sprinkled with basil leaves, curried mayonnaise on the side (mayo with a pinch of curry powder!) and fresh bread.
  7. Enjoy!

 

Passage Mexico to Colombia – Feb 21-27, 2014

I remember starting this blog with the motto “cooking while cruising”, and must confess that every posts so far have been written while in a Mexican port. Not much sailing happened in the past year or so. But that’s all about to change, with our resuming our cruising schedule for 2014. First leg was a couple of weeks ago, a 7 day passage to Cartagena, Colombia.

The sailing story can be read on my other blog, what follows is all about what we eat at sea. But first, a little about how and why we eat the way we do.

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After 25 years of cruising, we have developed a passage routine based on every crew members’ likes and dislikes, capabilities and whatever provisions are available locally. I know from experience that some things are certain to happen:

  1. The kids and I will be sea sick for at least the first 2 days, which means we will not eat and we will sleep a lot. Medication may help with the quizziness, but sure makes you drowsy.
  2. As a result, Terry, who fortunately has an iron stomach, will be on triple watch, and left to fend for himself in the galley. He may be lucky to have Marc and I relieve him for a few hours during the day, just as well he doesn’t need as many hours sleep as the rest of us.
  3. No matter what the weather forecasts say, conditions at sea will be worse than predicted.
  4. We will NOT catch as much fish as we hope, the days of catching yellowfin tunas as big as Marc (6ft tall) are GONE! It is a fact that there are not as many fish in the sea as there used to.
  5. Unless caught in a storm (it has happened before), things will improve after 3 days: the crew will recover, the sunrises and sunsets will be gorgeous, we’ll be playing scrabble and enjoying gourmet meals all the way, whether the fish are biting or not!IMG_2046

That’s how we adopted these few food “rules” while on passage: Read More

Mexican farewell party

Before we left Mexico, I invited some of our closest friends for one last farewell party. It was a fun and emotional night, the kids goofed around one last time with their best friends, as did we. Memories and jokes were shared, speeches were made, email addresses exchanged, a few tears shed among promises to stay in touch and remain friends forever.

The party to end all parties, it nearly didn’t happen. As it was, we hadn’t stopped saying goodbyes since our return from Canada, nearly 3 weeks ago. Starting with a surprise party on the beach for Anne, organised by her girlfriends. Then we celebrated the joint birthdays of Marc and our good friend Jack with an All-you-can-eat-and-drink evening at fancy Barcelo resort (which doubled up as our last dinner out together for both our families). Not to be outdone, other friends Joe and Kelly had us over for a dinner by the fire, as a farewell to all, since they were due to leave Puerto before us. The final gathering was at other friends, Sofia and Patrick, who put together this wonderful BBQ by the pool.

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We reached the point where Terry begged for a couple of quiet nights so we could start our ocean crossing with a clear head. Then on the eve of departure, a medical issue came up. While not life threatening, it was concerning enough to postpone our departure for a couple of days. And the perfect excuse for one last farewell gathering. As my friend Sofia says in Spanish: la ultima y nos vamos, the last one and we leave.   

It was meant to be drinks and snacks, but with the boat ready to go, I realised there was time to cook something more substantial. I could not help myself and thought what a better parting gift than share our family’s favourite dishes? So, here was the menu: a collection of kids lunch box classics, a little spice, my own vegetarian inventions and inspired desserts.

Appetizers:

Zucchini slice

Sweet Potato and goat cheese spread on toasts

Mains:

Red Thai beef curry

Grilled lime and garlic marinated chicken drumsticks

Coriander, Green beans and Oyster mushrooms salad

Steamed rice

Desserts:

Cheesecake Swirled Brownies

Fruit salad with Grand Marnier

 

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Zucchini slice

A very popular dish in Australia, also on the boat. I always seem to have the main ingredients in the fridge: zucchinis, bacon and cream cheese. It freezes well. You can substitute any of the other cheeses ( in Mexico, I used Chiapas and Gouda cheeses) The kids love it in their lunch box, it is also perfect finger food.

* For a vegetarian version, replace the bacon with a small can of corn

** For  gourmet canapés, omit the bacon, serve topped with a dollop of sour cream and a slice of smoked salmon

*** If you don’t have cream cheese or/and fetta cheese, use 1 cup cheddar cheese and ¼ cup olive oil

 

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For 4-6 people as a starter, up to 20 people as part of a buffet

Ingredients:

5 eggs

1 cup self-raising flour (or 1 cup plain flour + 1tsp baking powder), sifted

2 large zucchinis grated

1 large onion chopped

1 garlic clove crushed

200g bacon chopped

200g cream cheese (Philadelphia style)

½ cup fetta cheese

½ cup grated cheddar cheese

1 tsp dried oregano

  1. Preheat oven to 200C (375F)
  2. In a skillet, fry onion, garlic and bacon for 5 mn, until soft.
  3. In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the cream cheese
  4. Add the flour and beat lightly
  5. Add the zucchini, bacon mixture and other cheeses. Stir until well combined.
  6. Pour into a lined 20×30 cm baking dish (lamington pan in Australia)
  7. Bake in the oven for 45mn or until top is set and slightly brown.
  8. Cut into squares.
  9. Serve warm or cold.

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Looking for Canadian gastronomy

This blog was initially designed to talk about what we cook and eat on the boat while cruising the world. But since we’ve been tied to a Mexican dock for a year or so, the stories seem to have revolved around whatever food experiences come our way, travelling or not.

Typical example: last month, we spent 2 weeks on a skiing holiday in Whistler, Canada. Being January, school holidays, the idea was to get away from the heat of Mexico and indulge in cooler weather before resuming our cruising schedule this year (I know, life is tough…trust me, we enjoy every moment while it lasts). We were joined by Australian friends David and Denise who had such a great time in Mexico with us, they decided to follow us and continue the party in Canada! The weather was suitably cold ( for us anyway, though the temperatures were above zero, pretty mild for Canadian standards), the snow on the short side but enough to have fun, and the best part for me was the variety of food available. Next to Australia, Canada must be the most culturally diverse country I know.

We rented a condo large enough to accommodate our party of 6, and with a full gourmet kitchen at our disposal, Denise and I elected to take turn in cooking dinners.  Food wise, with migrants from all over the world, the supermarkets are bursting at the seams with produces as varied as lemongrass, polish sausages, French baguettes, or Italian cheese! We stocked up for basic supplies with gusto in Squamish, a town 40 minutes from Whistler, where prices are at least half of what you pay in the resort town. That allowed us to eat (and drink) like kings: between spaghetti bolognese, giant rissole casserole, spare ribs, Italian chicken, homemade granola, curry nights, pancakes with bacon and maple syrup of course and much more…we felt a little smug when comparing the price of going out.

But you know me, always looking for culinary adventures, I used every opportunity to taste something new and I was on a mission to find out what Canadian gastronomy was all about. A quick look at the Whistler dining guide was enough to realise that we could only afford a couple of dinners out and my attention turned to lunch on the mountain instead ( you may call me cheap, I prefer to think of myself as discerning!). To give you an idea, lunch on the slopes cost an average of $17 (that’s the value of the lunch voucher given to Marc by his ski school!), as opposed to main course for dinner being anything upward from $25.

And they were very yummy lunches indeed: mushroom soup,

 

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beef pies, breakfast sandwiches,

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turkey chili…

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Food for champion! Except that the jury is split on the national dish called poutine, a bowl of French fries smothered in gravy and sprinkled with cheese curds. The kids absolutely loved it, I not so much, found it too sloppy.

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We did go out for dinner a couple of times, and the experience paled in comparison: in both cases, they were expensive steak houses with rave reviews. While the meal at RIC’s GRILL was OK (bison rib-eye for Terry, B.C salmon for me), it was not great for the price. The Aussie waitress from Mildura made up for it though, she was nice.

 

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On the other hand, SIDECUT at the Four Seasons was a huge disappointment: this is the kind of restaurant that charges $50 for a steak then asks you to choose a selection of sides at $7 each. I was longing for lamb cutlets, and it turned out to be the best choice since it was served with its own garlic mash and Brussels sprouts. The others ordered steaks, which were good for nearly everyone except Terry who sent back his rib-eye that had come out very well done instead of medium rare. The service was atrocious (impatient and condescending), the atmosphere noisy and busy, and the final straw was when presenting us with a $600 bill for 5 (I deliberately leave Anne out, her kids meal was only $10); they refused for us to pay with a debit card. Maybe we are spoiled: my friends and I are good cooks, who occasionally like to have a night off and will pay for the privilege of a break from the kitchen (especially the washing up). However, I do take offence at being treated badly (like a bad student who doesn’t understand how restaurants are run!), and believe that the customer is king (or queen), no matter how many stars are attached to an establishment!

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Well that was my whinge. On the positive side, we did find a gem of a restaurant in Vancouver for lunch, at the Marriot Airport hotel, of all places. The food was great, I was still on the lookout for anything quintessentially Canadian, but in the end happily settled for everyone’s favourite prepared with local produce: cod and chips for Terry, Alberta beef burger for Marc, B.C seafood salad for me, and double margarita for Denise! The waitress was fantastic, making us feel like she was running a taverna (maybe it was her Greek accent) and could not do enough to please us. We knew she cared, when after serving the boys their 4th beer, she asked if we were driving somewhere, and was relieved when we told her we were staying next door at the Hilton (or maybe, as Terry said, by law she would have had to cut us off!)

 

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So happy with that lunch experience, I was looking forward to have an early dinner at the airport and would you believe: once we stepped into the international area, ALL shops and restaurants were closed. It was 7pm, and our flight was to be the last flight of the day scheduled at 8.30pm!!!  The only option was a Tim Horton’s outlet, Canada’s answer to Starbucks, hailed as the best coffee shop by most locals we’ve met. Knowing that it would be a long, food-free flight home to Cancun, we selected muffins and cookies (no savoury selection available). Intrigued by the “double-double” coffee all Canadians talk about, I convinced Terry to order a small cup while I played it safe with an ordinary black coffee. Oh, what can I say? The double-double means 2 teaspoons of sugar and 2 teaspoons of cream, enough to send a diabetic comatose in a flash. As for the black coffee, it was nothing but brown diluted water with an unrecognisable taste, certainly not coffee, which I hate to admit, I flushed down the washroom. What I wouldn’t have done for a Nespresso…

All is not lost though: I have procured myself with Grade A Maple syrup, Canadian bacon ( unlike US or English bacon, it has none of the surrounding fat, only the lean meat, much to Terry’s dislike!), and have every intention to enjoy a Canadian culinary experience…on the boat.

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