For The Love of Blog

My laptop is still broken. I am currently borrowing one; its like my fix of methadone while waiting for my dealer to get back off holidays…or not, really. But I have realised I am a total computer/internet addict. I thought I could be with out it but I have found myself pining for writing my blog and other projects in a way I feel just a little bit ashamed about. But also good about because it means I really LOVE doing it.

For most of the time it wasn’t too heartbreaking as I was distracting myself valiantly with a trip to Kenya where I fell in love with samosas and Swahili sauce. And so actually I haven’t done a huge amount of cooking in the time I have been bereft of laptop. I did however spend a great deal of time hanging about in airports looking at my favourite food blogs and so I am going to direct you to some of the recipes I will soon be trying because I can’t get the thought of their potential deliciousness out of my head…

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Sailing with the Gael

Sooo, the last few weeks have been a little manic. My season with the boat in France came to a close as the weather cooled and the boat shut down for the winter. I thought, lovely, two weeks off to enjoy some autumness in the UK before heading to Malta at the end of October. Oh no! After just two days I got a call from the OH to say I was welcome to join his boat for the last three weeks of their season, taking her from Cagliari down to Malta and then cruising about a bit for two weeks. And so my boaty cooking got an extension, with some lovely new guests to cook for, and two boys that appreciate not having to eat crisp wraps (ahem…) because they’re too busy to cook!

This post is especially for those lovely guests, with a collection of recipes that were requested after they were enjoyed on board. To start we have the hearty cous cous salad, then a big, beefy lasagne and the perfect plum crumble.

Hearty, family food - for families with heart

Hearty, family food – for families with heart

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Chicken Tonight

Chicken is a mainstay of many people’s diets but until recently it was not something that I ate very often. On the boat we eat quite a lot of chicken though, we always have lots of it on standby and when it isn’t requested by the guests, I cook it for the crew instead. And so, I have had to find some interesting recipes that make eating chicken once a week delicious and new every time. Here are four recipes that make people excited when I say we’re having chicken tonight.

Chick, chick, chick, chick, chicken!

Chick, chick, chick, chick, chicken!

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Toma(i)toes, Toma(r)toes

Inspired by a #pantrychat on Twitter I have decided to collate a few of my favourite recipes with this delectable, and highly versatile vegetable (fruit if you’re a pedant). Tomatoes are something I always have in the galley. I have to keep them in the fridge as they tend to get too ripe too quickly in 35 degree heat! It is best, if you can, to keep them at room temperature but if you are keeping them in the fridge, bring them out a while before serving so they can warm up a little as they taste best at room temperature. There are thousands of varieties, all with their own strengths and here in the South of France I am particularly lucky with the wide selection available. I also use a lot of tinned tomatoes, the best type for me is the whole plum tomatoes without skin on as they cook down to make a wonderful thick and concentrated sauce. They are a store cupboard staple, especially with an Italian on board!

Raw Tomato Pasta

Big red tomatoes, garlic, onion, basil, Parmesan, pasta, olive oil, black pepper, salt, balsamic vinegar

Gently fry the onions and the garlic in lots of olive oil (I mean loads, so that its kind of like a sauce). Cook the pasta as per the instructions. As I’ve said before, it is best to cook it fairly al dente and then drain (keeping some of the cooking water back), because when you mix it with the sauce it will continue to cook and there is nothing worse than soggy, over soft pasta (especially if you are cooking for Italians…). Once the onions and garlic are soft and fragrant add a splash of balsamic vinegar or lemon juice and season. Chop the tomatoes roughly. Put the drained pasta into the frying pan with the garlic and onions then chuck the tomatoes in. Add a little cooking water as it makes the pasta and olive oil all silky. Rip up loads of basil and stir it all in. Serve with more olive oil, Parmesan shavings and more black pepper. Very quick, very easy.

Cooked Tomato Pasta

Tinned plum tomatoes 800g, 3 onions, carrot, olive oil, salt, pepper.

This recipe is my bosses favourite and comes from his chef in Geneva. I have been taught it so that the boss doesn’t have to bring tupperware boxes of it with him in his luggage all the way to Ibiza…

Chop the onions and the carrot very finely, pop in a big sauce pan with lots of olive oil. Fry until soft and sweet. Add the tinned tomatoes, squashing them in your hands to make lumps – don’t chop. Reserve all the juice, you don’t need it in this recipe so put it in the fridge in a clean jar – its fantastic for making curry sauce or adding to tomato soups. Season and add a lot of olive oil, I’m talking half a litre to 800g of tinned tomatoes. A lot. Cook until all the liquid is evaporated off. It freezes well so make twice as much as you need, 800g of tomatoes will make enough to serve 7-8 people. Fantastic for defrosting should you get mobbed and need a quick lunch.

Simply scrumptious super simple

Simply scrumptious, super simple

Roast Tomato Soup

A good selection of different tomatoes that are as ripe as possible, carrot, celery, leek, onion, garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, brown sugar.

Stick the tomatoes in a roasting tray with lots of olive oil, a glug of balsamic and a sprinkling of brown sugar, cut a garlic bulb (not clove, whole bulb!) in half horizontally and put cut side up in the tray with them. Roast for 30 minutes at about 180 degrees, you want them to be a little blackened on the outside so perhaps 200 degrees towards the end will help. Meanwhile, make a sort of veg stock. Chop the carrot, celery, leak and onion into small pieces, cover with water and simmer until the carrot is soft. Once the tomatoes are done, add them to the veg mix in the saucepan, scoop out the soft roasted garlic too and then blend into a smooth puree. You could add some cream at this point if you like. Serve with croutons (chop up bread, fry in olive oil – or lightly toast in the oven if you’re after something healthier…fry it its so much better), extra black pepper and a swirl of EVOO.

*EVOO is Extra Virgin Olive Oil, for those that haven’t twigged it yet. It took me awhile.

Bruschetta

Bruschetta bread (or slices of french bread), mix of ripe tomatoes, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, red onion.

For the best bruschetta dressing, make this an hour before you need it. Chop the tomatoes roughly, chop the red onion finely and mix with a good glug of EVOO, balsamic, rock salt and black pepper. Cover and leave on the counter, not in the fridge, for an hour. The tomato juices will leak out and make the most amazing liquor with the oil and vinegar. Mmmmm! Rub the slices of bread with the cut side of a garlic clove and then toast/grill/griddle. Drizzle them with olive oil. Load with the tomato mix and top with a basil leaf. Serve as a snack before dinner (nibble nibble), or as a lunch. Good with crisp white wine.

Late Addition!

Squid in Tomato Sauce

Last night I cooked this and we all sat down and had a ‘family’ meal with the owner too. It is based on a recipe his daughter gave me while we were away in Ibiza and it really is delicious. I was skeptical at first as squid can be a bit tricky, going chewy and tough if its over cooked. However, long slow cooking leaves it just as tender as short, hot cooking – its somewhere in between where it all goes wrong! Little squid are more tender and soft so best to get the smaller ones when buying from the fishmonger.

1kg cleaned squid, two tins tomatoes (plum without skin), garlic, onion, glass white wine, seasoning

Fry onions and garlic until soft and sweet then add the glass of wine. Simmer until reduced by a third and then add the tomatoes, squishing the whole plums between your fingers as they go in. Cook for ten minutes then add the sliced squid, legs and all. Pop the lid on and allow to simmer gently for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the lid and cook for a further 10 minutes. Serve with rice, green salad and a crusty loaf. So, so simple, and really, really tasty 🙂

Squiddly Diddlies

Squiddly Diddlies

Catch it, kill it, cook it

How many of you really consider the process that goes on before the food you eat reaches the shops you buy it from? Do any of you grow your own? Raise your own meat, collect eggs from chickens? Fish, hunt or gather from the wild? As I have said before, the satisfaction we glean from a good meal is more than just the physical satiation of hunger, it is the mental satisfaction that comes with preparing the food as well. And this can begin right from the start. Nothing has ever tasted better than the first radish I picked from my allotment a few years ago. It was the first thing I had eaten that I had grown from scratch. I prepared the soil it grew in, planted the seeds, watered and weeded the earth. And then I ate it straight from the ground. I have been foraging for wild food for several years too and there is a real rush when you stumble upon a patch of golden chanterels or a penny bun. Freshly caught fish has the same allure, the mackerel I caught from Devil’s Point in Plymouth was sweeter than any you can buy in the supermarket, mere hours between hook and plate. But best of all was the tuna we caught on the crossing from Antibes to Ibiza a few weeks ago.

There has been no new posts for a few weeks as I have been without reliable internet, anchored off Ibiza or Formentera, cooking up a storm for the owner and his guests everyday. There will be more about the recipes I have honed over the last few weeks later, but first I want to share the wonders of tuna fishing.

The rods were set from 4am as we left the Pocorols, heading out over the drop off into deeper waters. At half past seven the klaxon sounded and shouts of fish let us know that despite the general alarm being sounded we weren’t sinking. It was the Captain who had the rod in the special codpiece to reel the catch in. To begin with we were unsure of what we had on the end of the line but it fought hard until eventually it was within sight beneath the aft deck. It’s school were all around, flashes of silver metres beneath the surface, and suddenly the line began to run. It was diving, trying to escape, fighting for its life. And what a fight. After almost an hour it was finally at the surface and the time had come for others to join the fight. With gaff poles in hand, the captain’s friend and I leant over the rails, striking quick and clean to hall the big fish onto the deck. Twenty kilos of pure muscle pinned beneath a towel we sloshed vodka into its gills for a quick death. As with all fish, it looked us in the eye as it died, and I felt a great respect for the wolf of the sea as it finally passed.

Tuna

Wolf of the Sea

As the cook on board it was my job to butcher the fish, something not for the feint hearted. There is a lot of meat and it took another hour before the tuna steaks were cleaned and ready for the freezer. A little sashimi was an excellent treat for breakfast, thin strips sliced from the thick fillets, sweet and juicy, easily the best sashimi I will probably ever eat.

Lunch came around and Tuna Nicoise was the first recipe. Simple; celebrating the succulent fish as centre piece, I seared it in a hot pan for just a few moments on each side to leave it pink in the middle. For the salad itself you’ll need cooked new potatoes, green beans, mixed lettuce, rocket, cherry tomatoes cut into halves, thinly slice red onion, a hard boiled egg cut into quarters per person and some black olives. Place the tuna steak on top of this yummy salad and dress with a mix of olive oil, white wine vinegar, lemon juice, flat leaf parsley, garlic, salt and pepper.

For days the response to “What would you like for dinner?” the captain responded with, “Tuna.” as if eating the same thing every day was perfectly acceptable. This is where I had to get a little inventive and start thinking up different ways to serve the same fish and the options really are fairly broad! A favourite that really stood out for me was Sesame Tuna with Spicey Noodles. I used quick cook noodles, boiled for just a few minutes in stock. I then pour a sauce made from thinly sliced ginger that has been steeping in boiling water, soy and honey for a half hour before hand. Chuck in some stir fried veg, cabbage, peppers and the like and then top with chopped peanuts and a hearty drizzle of sesame oil. Then for the tuna. Coat in sesame oil and then roll in sesame seeds so they stick. Fry in a hot pan quickly so the steak stays pink in the middle. Serve with a scattering of thinly sliced red chilli for an extra kick.

Tuna with Sesame

Tuna with Sesame

So next time you go to the fish counter and look at the ready filleted rows of fresh fish, have a think about where it came from, how it was caught, and most importantly, how you’re going to cook it once you get home.

Celebrating summer salads

As I have mentioned before, it took me a long time to make friends with salad. In my new job, all the crew want to eat is salad. Now salad and I are getting intimate several times a day…ahem! So rather than the plain old leaves with a bit of floppy cucumber (oo er!) and anaemic tomato tossed in I have been finding proper chunky salads that are more of a main meal than a sappy side. Here are a couple of my favourites from the last few days; combining the use of leftovers AND fresh seasonal veg, two of my favourite things 🙂

Pasta Salad

Pasta (great way to use up some left over Pasta Pesto or a tomato pasta), salad leaves (a nice mix of Kos lettuce, rocket, baby spinach, don’t just use Iceberg its sooo lame…), avocado, black olives, plum tomatoes, capers, mozarella, basil leaves, olive oil, salt and pepper

Get a bowl, put some salad leaves in it and make sure they’re all mixed up and in bite size pieces. I really hate it when there is a whole leaf of lettuce all up in my salad, I feel the need to cram the whole thing into my mouth at once and then I look daft (well, more daft than normal anyway) with all that green on my face. Anyway, mix your cold, leftover pasta with a little olive oil or an extra spoon of pesto then top the salad leaves with it. On top of this layer spread a chunkily chopped tomato, half an avocado (or if you’re like me and loooove avocados, a whole one), torn up bits of mozarella, olives, capers, and the basil leaves. Season with half a ton of pepper, more olive oil and a good sprinkling of rock salt. Serve with crusty bread and wine (which should go with every meal except breakfast when tea is obviously more appropriate…maybe).

My best friend (and then I ate it...)

My best friend (and then I ate it…)

Quinoa Salad

Quinoa (if making from scratch allow to cool), chickpeas (tinned or jarred, the dried ones are soooo much faff), red onion, sun-dried tomatoes and some of their oil, lemon juice, parsley, black olives (using up the jar from yesterday’s pasta salad), interesting lettuce (i.e. chicory, rocket, watercress, etc.), cucumber, avocado (I really do like them), feta cheese, toasted walnuts.

Cook the quinoa as instructed on the packet. Put in a mixing bowl with the chickpeas. Add finely diced red onion, lemon juice, sliced black olives, roughly chopped parsley, sun-dried tomatoes and enough of the oil from their jar to loosen the mix. Put salad leaves and cucumber slices into a bowl and top with quinoa. On to this spread chunks of avocado and crumbled feta then sprinkle some toasted walnuts over the top too. Dress with more olive oil, salt and pepper.

I served these for lunch to the crew and the captain came back from seconds and thirds…so they have his seal of approval at least. Now go and try them and give me yours too 🙂

Galley Wag

When I was little, my Father used to call me a scallywag. Apparently its a term of endearment between pirates and so I have adopted the phrase once more now I am a ship’s (yacht’s, its only got one mast…) cook. I have a kitchen again (its a GALLEY!), and I get to cook for the crew, the owner and his guests. I get paid to go food shopping…for normal women this is like getting paid to go shoe shopping; I am in heaven. So far this week I have been testing out some of my favourite recipes, and a few new ones, so that when the owner is here I can roll out some spectacular, made from scratch, healthy food for him and his guests. Two recipes that have gone down particularly well are Chickpea Salad and Sticky Soy Chicken with Veggie Fried Quinoa.

Chickpea Salad

A jar of chickpeas, a mix of tomatoes, spring onions, chilli, mint, basil, olive oil

Slice onions thinly, dice tomatoes, chop chilli finely and mix in a bowl with olive oil, salt and pepper. Chop mint and basil roughly and toss with other ingredients. Warm the chickpeas in a sauce pan, remove about ten percent and crush them with a fork. Mix this in to the other ingredients as it will give a slightly creamy texture to the dressing. Toss in the rest of the chickpeas whole and serve with another leafy green salad and a crusty loaf of bread.

Sticky Soy Chicken and Veggie Fried Quinoa

Chicken breast, mushrooms, almonds, red onion, garlic, honey, soy sauce, black pepper

60g quinoa per person, stock cube, courgette, handful cabbage, runner beans, chilli

Boil the quinoa as per the instructions on the packet, using a stock cube to flavour the water. While this is cooking fry the sliced onions and garlic with a pinch of brown sugar so they caramelize. Add the sliced mushrooms and a dash of soy sauce. Set aside while you cook the chicken. Chop the chicken into bite-size chunks and put into a hot frying pan. As the meat is cooking add honey and soy sauce slowly, you want to balance the flavours so it is not too sweet but not too salty so add it a little at a time and once the meat is cooked keep tasting and adjusting the two. When the sauce is reduced and sticky, put the onion mix back in and add the flaked almonds so they soak up the sauce.

For the quinoa, stir fry the thinly sliced veg until al dente and then stir in a little quinoa at a time so that is mixes evenly with the veg and fries well. Although I didn’t have any this evening, I think some toasted sesame seeds would really round this dish off, especially if the veg and quinoa were fried in a little sesame oil.