Thursday, March 18, 2010

Do You Fon-do?

We celebrated Aunt Pam and Uncle Win's 20th wedding anniversary with them, anchored in Ballast Bay, a beautiful and serene spot off the South end of St. Kitts. The water was calm, the temperature was perfect, and we spent the day lazing around the boat. Noah learned to tie a monkeys fist knot, Pam and Win read their books, and I laid on the bow, listening to Zac Brown and watching the clouds, frigate birds, and pelicans go by. Tons of fish were jumping and little schools of minnows would rise out of the water in a wave, like reverse rain. I pondered a swim, watching a school of squid congregate around the anchor line. I had to talk Noah into going first, so he could scare away whatever was chasing those minnows. It was one of our most beautiful and romantic days in the Carribbean.

That night, to celebrate their 20 years together, we uncorked some wine and dined on cheese fondue. The world would be a better place with more fondue in it. Noah and I don't own a bona fide fondue pot and so don't make it often, but we should, because fondue is just plain fun. Those little forks, cubes of bread and fruit, melted cheese, and a leisurely dining pace create an atmosphere outside the norm. Pammy is a fondue queen and has it down pat. Here's her method for sailboat fondue:

Pammy's Cheese Fon-DO's
This is the WAY to do Fondue. By the time we reached St.Kitt's our stash of fine cheeses from Miami had long since disappeared from the galley--WASN'T ME!! ...ok, it was totally me...No worries--we had Emmi Fondue Cheese (original Swiss style): a pantry product that does not require refrigeration and is great for sailing or camping. At home I would have made my own cheese mixture from scratch, but this stuff was really great, and gave me inspiration for our next backpacking trip.

Pam put the cheese into a saucepan over medium low heat. Soon it was in melted, liquid form. In a large skillet, she sauteed some button mushrooms with a little butter, salt, and pepper. Once they were tender and a little caramelized, they got tossed into the cheese pot. Then, a tablespoon or two of Kirsch  was added to spike the mix, along with a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg. Turn the heat to "warm" or off, cover the pan and set aside. The cheese is ready to go.

In the mushroom skillet, over medium heat, Pam melted a few tablespoons of butter and tossed in a couple teaspoons of minced garlic. She added the garlic to the pan and when it was fragrant, she added a sliced baguette (you could also do cubed bread). She tossed it all together in that hot pan and within a few minutes the bread was toasted, fragrant, and garlic-infused. This is a good way to make garlic toast when you don't have an oven handy, and it made a big difference in flavor.

We lit the fondue pot, poured in the cheese, and set the table up in the cockpit so we could dine al fresco, and enjoy a beautiful sunset. With the addition of a few sliced apples and pears, dinner was served.

All these little tricks: the mushrooms, kirsch, fresh nutmeg, and garlic toast-- made a wonderful fondue, and I was inspired to jot down Pammy's tricks so I could become a fondue queen too.

So, do you Fon-Do? If so, please tell Food-G about it in the comment box. What kind of cheese or other accoutrements make your pot bubble? What are your Fon-DO's and Fon-DONT'S? We want to hear about it : )

Cheese Fondue on Foodista

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Lady Budd's Basted Eggs

Basted Eggs over Sausage and Peppers

Hello dear Food-G readers! I hope you've been enjoying our sail through the balmy Caribbean. I have many more island flavors to share with you, but let's get out of the heat for just a moment, and come back to Montana, USA for some skiing (snowboarding in my case).

On a recent visit to Big Sky, Montana,  my good friend whom I will call Lady Budd, showed me a really cool way to cook eggs. It was a beautiful morning and we were whipping up a quick breakfast before heading up the mountain to shred Lone Peak. Lady Budd is a great cook, and healthy too--a real pro with veggies. So she grabbed an assortment of items from her produce drawer for a scramble: a few potatoes, garlic, broccoli, zucchini, button mushrooms, and grape tomatoes. I helped her chop it all up while we heated a large nonstick skillet with a little olive oil and a little butter-- that's a trick I learned from Chef Marco, my favorite instructor at CCA; using both olive oil and butter together creates a more interesting flavor than one or the other alone, and is especially nice with eggs.

Lady Budd disappeared to gear up, while I sauteed the veggies. The trick here is knowing when to add what. Potatoes take the longest to cook, so I added those first, over medium-high heat along with the garlic. A few minutes later, I added the button mushrooms and zucchini, and once everything was tender (not crisp, not mushy) and a little brown in spots, I added the tomatoes. I gave it all a light sprinkle of salt and pepper, and turned the heat down to low/medium low.

The whole time I was sauteeing, I was thinking, This is too much veg for a scramble. The beautiful yellow egg is going to look lost and brown amongst this big pan of veggie hash.

What to do? When Lady Budd returned I asked her if we should do the eggs on the side.

"We can just baste them," she said.
"Baste?" I had never cooked eggs that way. "What is this basting of which you speak?"
"It's kind of like poaching them," Lady Budd explained, "but instead of breaking them into water, you cook them with steam. We can just crack the eggs on top of the veggies, cover it with a lid, and the steam from the vegetables will cook the eggs right on top."
"I love this idea!" I said. The wonderful thing about cooking is that there's always something new to learn.

"We can sprinkle some cheese on the veggies before we add the eggs, so that it melts underneath," and with that Lady Budd crumbled some fresh goat cheese onto the veggies, and then poured the cracked (but not beaten) eggs evenly atop the hash. She turned the heat to medium-low so as not to burn the veg, and then began the steaming process by use of a tight fitting lid. It took about 10 minutes for the eggs to set up. Heather used a big spatula to dish our breakfast into shallow bowls, and then we sprinkled on some diced avocado and chopped gree onion. Wa lah!

Poaching eggs can be time consuming and frustrating. This technique, however, was equally healthy and way easier. They're all done at the same time and you can serve it up nice and hot, right out of the pan. So delicious and nourishing. A perfect ski breakfast. We were fueled up and ready to go make some turns in the sunshine.

The bad news is I had forgotten my camera and didn't take photos of Lady Budd's Basted Eggs, which were beautiful as the Montana sunrise. The good news is, once I returned home, I tried the basted eggs technique for myself, and came up with another version for you to see and try. There are endless possibilities once you learn this technique. It's perfect for those what's-in-the-fridge mornings. Have fun with it. Thanks for the inspiration Lady Budd!

Basted Eggs over Sausage and Peppers
(serves 2 on its own, or 4 with a side of grits and toast)

1 teaspoon butter
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup sliced button mushrooms
2 large links chicken-apple sausage, diced (I like Aidell's)
1 medium red bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
4 eggs
1 tablespoon chopped chives or green onion, for garnish
1/3 cup fresh diced tomato, for garnish
salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste

First make sure you have a medium-large skillet with a TIGHT FITTING LID. Place over medium-high heat and add butter and olive oil. When butter is melted and begins to sizzle, add the onion, garlic, mushrooms, and sausage to the pan. Cook, stirring, until the onions have begun to soften and the mix is really talking to you (SIZZLE SIZZLE SIZZLE!). Add the peppers and continue to cook until the mixture is beginning to brown in spots. Taste and season the mixture with salt, pepper, and cayenne if desired.

Reduce heat to medium-low. Make sure the hash is in a nice even layer before sprinkling on the cheese. Immediately crack the eggs onto the hash, and cover with a tight fitting lid.

See all that steam? That's what's going to cook your eggs. At this point the pan should still be talking to you, but more quietly (sizzle...sizzle...sizzle...). If it's too loud, reduce your heat. Be patient with this part, so you don't burn the bottom. The eggs can take a while to reach the desired degree of doneness. Mine took about 12 minutes. Go ahead, take a quick peek, but put the lid right back on to keep all that hot steam in. Test the eggs by touching the yolk for firmness. Don't be shy. The sunny-looking eggs might appear "easy", even when they're hard.

Once the eggs have reached your preferred state. remove from heat, and sprinkle with chives and diced tomato. Use a spatula to scoop portions from pan to plate. Enjoy!

Egg Yolk on Foodista

Friday, March 5, 2010

Sailboat Cookery 101

Cooking on a sailboat falls somewhere between camping and home cooking, depending of course on what size/kind of boat you're on. The "Meanwhile" had a nice, well-equipped galley, big enough for 2 people who aren't afraid of bumping butts. Our meals spanned the gamut from grab-n-go snacks to full-blown feasts. What we ate was influenced by 2 main factors: (a) Were we underway? and (b) What needed to be used up?

While underway, quick and easy was the ticket. The difference between a galley and a kitchen is that a galley moves, and while the boat is bobbing (or bucking) along, it can be tough to be below decks for too long, especially when it's hot out. If it wasn't too rough I tried to help with the cooking as much as I could. Once I got used to the gimbaled gas stove, it was pretty easy. With the pull of a pin, the whole unit could swing on an axis point, to compensate for the rocking waves. And little adjustable safety rods held the pots and pans in place. A pot of boiling water? No problem.

Pam was a wiz at whipping up dinners in less than 20 minutes; stuff like pasta, or stir-fry were good options, and we made use of convenience products like boil-in-bag rice, bottled sauces, and pre-cut frozen vegetables. The rest of the day we snacked on things like crackers and spreads, fruit, yogurt, trail mix, tortilla chips, etc.

Win and Pam had been sailing in the Mediterranean for the last few years so their pantry was stocked with some nice foreign delicacies that came in handy for quick eats. One of my favorite meals was a couple tins of lemon and herb sardines, served on top of saltines with french mustard and tabasco. We ate salmon pate from France that came in a toothpaste-type tube, with a label that read, "Voulez-vous pate avec moi?" Surprisingly good. And Pammy used some little jars of pickled vegetable treasures for antipasti or a quick throw-together pasta dish.

If we were getting ready to set sail, we might make things that would keep well, and serve the leftovers while underway. Pammy baked wonderful banana bread in her convection/microwave oven. I made a big batch of bolognese sauce that stretched through a couple of dinners. A zucchini and goat cheese fritatta got us through breakfast one day and lunch the next.

If we were moored, on anchor, or in a marina, we could pretty much cook like we were at home. We sauteed freshly caught fish in olive oil, garlic, and lime juice, and made fish tacos. I cooked Noah veal cutlets in a mushroom-caper sauce for his birthday. One night Win cooked his famous drunken mushrooms (pictured above) for us. Sherry, mushroom caps, butter, garlic coins, and more sherry. The smell of these will make you crazy with appetite.

They even had a little gas grill, which came in handy for our 6-course Christmas feast, complete with a succulent brined turkey breast; along with oyster stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes with pecans and brown sugar, gingered cranberry chutney, and pumpkin pie. Pam pulled a little Christmas tree out of nowhere, and between that, our little snowflake lights, and some Andrea Bocelli Christmas tunes, we had an unforgettable Christmas in the Road Town Marina. I loved hearing the islanders call out to each other, "Seasons greetins!"

Every sailor has their own approach to the galley. Thanks to our strategy of a well-stocked pantry we neither sacrificed nor starved on the boat. And like camping, we found that everything tastes better when you're dining al fresco.
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