Thursday, December 21, 2006

Mojito's, Bahama Style

Fresh Ginger-Lime Mojitos

Pear and Arugula Salad with Miso-Yuzu Vinaigrette

Sesame Crusted Seared Tuna with Long Beans and a Pyramid of Sushi Rice

Bittersweet Chocolate-Almond-Raspberry Cake with Gold Leafed, Rose Scented Raspberries and White Chocolate Shavings.

The birthday celebration continued throughout the day, Wahoo kabobs for lunch and while I was throwing that together with my right hand, my left hand was whipping up a chocolate cake… and with my other four spare arms I made a batch of Mojitos and also prepared dinner – another meal where we all sat together and once again celebrated our 1st Mates god dam birthday. What’s next, a national holiday?

I made two chocolate devils food cakes, recipe from the Cook’s Illustrated Best Recipes cookbook – but rather than Hershey’s cocoa powder, I used Valhrona, my personal fave. It’s a failsafe recipe, works every time. I filled the cake with raspberry jam and did a crumb coating with raspberry jam as well. As I prepared to frost the cake with a deep, bittersweet chocolate ganache, I folded up four pieces of parchment paper and slid them underneath the cake so that when the frosting and decorating of the cake was complete, I could remove the parchment and the plate would be clean. I put a thick layer of chocolate ganache on the cake, and then pressed toasted almonds around the outside. I tossed fresh raspberries with rose-flower water and powdered sugar to give them a nice sheen and add a little flavor, and then I brushed them with gold leaf and rimmed the cake with them. I piped a layer of ganache on the inside ring against the raspberries and then filled the circle with grated white chocolate. Then, the piece d’resistance – 30 curly birthday candles…

The owners were calling for cocktails and since I’d boasted about making a good Mojito, I was put to the test – but time was running short and I still had to make dinner! I had made gingered simple syrup a few weeks ago which I had poached star-fruit in to make star-fruit chips for garnishing a panna cotta. I figured the gingered simple syrup would be a nice touch to the Mojitos.

Cristina’s Ginger-Lime Mojitos:

Simple Syrup:

2 cups water

2 cups sugar

2 lbs. fresh ginger – roughly chopped (don’t bother peeling, it gets strained out)

Bring water, sugar and ginger to a boil. Turn down heat and simmer 10 minutes. Turn off heat, cover and allow steeping for another 20 minutes or so. Strain through a strainer and then through cheese clothe to remove any bits of ginger.


(This is a rough estimate of what I put in, I didn’t really keep track)

1 1/2 – 2 cups fresh squeezed lime juice

4 sprigs fresh mint, picked

Ginger Simple Syrup to taste (maybe a ¼ - ½ cup?)

½ liter Club Soda

750 ml. Bacardi Rum

Put ice and mint in a large pitcher and meddle with the back of a wooden spoon – smashing and breaking up mint. Add the rum, lime juice, simple syrup and club soda. Taste and adjust ingredients accordingly. Tasting and adjusting is essential, and when you get the formula just right – pour yourself one as reward, and a second because they’re that good...

For dinner I made a simple salad of pears, avocado, arugula and a miso-yuzu vinaigrette. I found a bottle of yuzu juice (a Japanese citrus fruit similar to grapefruit – only tart, tangy and addictively acidic) at a specialty food store in Fort Lauderdale and have fallen in love with the flavor. I hope one day I can find some fresh to play with! I made vinaigrette with about a teaspoon of miso, a few tablespoons of yuzu and canola oil. Simple, straightforward and tasty. Dinner was sesame encrusted pan-seared tuna with a pyramid of sushi rice garnished with flecks of nori, bonito and dried wasabi and a long beans with fennel and peppers sautéed in sesame oil. And dessert was, of course, the cake.

After dinner we went out for yet another night on the town. This time starting at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club and finishing up dancing the night away to some reggae at a tiny island club called Happy People.

And yet another early morning the next day. At least the owners were flying back to Florida so I knew that I’d be able to get in an afternoon nap and have an easy evening as I’d prepared some Bolognese and froze it before the trip… Dinner the next night consisted of defrosting the sauce and boiling some water. Fortunately, the rest of the crew were all tired too. Our stewardess put together a lovely arugula, pear and honeyed-goat cheese salad and I made some garlic bread. We all enjoyed a simple dinner and an early night to bed…

Kiss My Whisk!

I cursed the heavens and the stars; I cursed the aquamarine ocean that I floated upon. I cursed my job; I cursed the yacht and the whole industry. But mostly I just cursed… as I whisked and whisked trying furiously to emulsify my cracked hollandaise.

In actuality, I cursed our 1st Mate because it was his birthday and I was tired from the previous night’s festivities and this morning the owners asked him what he wanted for his birthday breakfast; his request? A bed of spinach with artichoke hearts nestled in it, poached eggs on top and hollandaise (which just happens to be the owner’s favorite breakfast, too. Coincidence?). I hadn’t made hollandaise since culinary school – 7 years ago! It was a challenge I was not intimidated to take on, but I had to put out breakfast for seven hungry guests and crew and I knew they wouldn’t wait all day while I figured out how to make the sauce! And yes, I believe in shortcuts, but sauce from a packet just doesn’t fly with me. I have an aversion to powdered, just-add-water foods and/or anything with an ingredient list that reads like a HazMat identification manual…


-obviously, oblivious to my pain and suffering in the galley!

Having only a vague memory of what goes in hollandaise and how to make it – I thought about my father who always seemed to be able to whip up a tasty hollandaise in a blender, and in a snap… So, going into MythBuster mode, I decided to give the blender method an attempt. I figured that if I warmed up my clarified butter (which I had in abundance in the fridge) it would provide the necessary heat to cook the eggs. Right? Well, not exactly. My first attempt with two egg yolks and about a half cup or more of clarified butter and some lemon juice turned out a thin, very unappealing looking sauce. This just wouldn’t do. I tried adding another egg yolk - to no avail.

I quickly put together a bain-marie over the stove and began whisking. My already thin, anemic looking sauce began to separate. Discernable little droplets of clarified butter forming around the edge of my bowl, like the pearls of sweat now forming on my brow... I looked up at the heavens and shook my whisk. What was I going to do?

Attempt #3 was to pull out the trusty hand-blender, fixer of all manners of broken emulsifications. But again, to no avail. My sauce came together slightly more, but was still way too thin and I was not about to serve anything less than a perfect sauce. I had to put on my chef thinking cap – and quickly.

I started thinking about emulsified sauces and the process of emulsifying - and what, my friend, is the easiest and first emulsified sauce you learn to make in culinary school? Mayonnaise! And what is hollandaise other than mayonnaise with the oil replaced by clarified butter? I quickly whipped out another egg, cracking the yolk into a mixing bowl and adding the tiniest amount of Dijon mustard (Dijon mustard has a thickening quality which assists the emulsification process, with a bit of flavor!). I started getting busy on my yolk mixture with my hand blender and then slowly, very S-L-O-W-L-Y, began drizzling my broken sauce into the yolk while I blended away. Drop by drop, my sauce began to come together, the broken sauce going un-wasted, and thickening up perfectly. I added a bit more clarified butter, lemon juice, and salt – and voila, I had a perfect, and I’d recon to say, almost unbreakable, hollandaise sauce. When it came time to serve, my sauce was a bit thick and it needed reheating. I simply put it in my bain-marie on the stove, thinned it with the tiniest amount of hot water and whisked it until it was warm.

And yes, you purest out there rolling your eyes and cursing me for not knowing how to make a hollandaise – well, you can just kiss my whisk because my sauce was beautiful and tasty. And what is the cardinal rule of professional cooking, yacht cooking and catering? Make it work, baby, make it work…

After getting my sauce together, my next order of business was to poach off 14 eggs. How exactly would you serve eggs benedict to your guests, hot, and all at the same time? I didn’t happen to have my 14 egg-at-a-time-poaching mechanism on hand, which, again did pose a bit of a challenge. But once again, I looked at the wonderful learning opportunity I had in front of me and figured I would test out a method that a friend had told me about a while back. Poach off your eggs a few at a time, being careful to leave them very soft and slightly under-poached (which called for some very delicate handling), pull them from the hot water and shock them in an ice-bath to stop the cooking. Keep them aside and simply reheat them by plunking them back into the hot water for a minute before serving.

I’ve had some poaching failures in the past – everyone has a different method and I’ve tried them all; swirling the water before dropping the egg in, adding vinegar, etc. and those just haven’t worked for me. The method I use is to fill a frying pan (yes, a frying pan) with water and bring it to a boil. Crack an egg into a cup and when the water boils, pour the egg into the water – turn off the heat, cover the pan with a lid and let it sit for 3 minutes or so, until it’s done. So, this is the method I employed this time, poaching off three eggs at a time, dunking them (very carefully) into an ice bath and then scooping them out onto a plate. In the meantime, I cooked up my spinach and heated my artichoke hearts.

When it came time to serve, it all worked out really quite simply. I plunked my eggs back into some hot water, then scooped them out and plopped them (gently, of course) onto the artichoke heart and dressed them with a spoon of my golden, tangy, warm and perfectly unbroken hollandaise. 7 orders up at the same time, and hot. The owners and crew all sat down for breakfast together and I couldn’t help but feel a bit of pride that I had met the challenge…

Lesson learned? Well, hollandaise is one of those things that, working on a yacht, I should really know how to make. And now, I can make it in abundance, hold it and reheat it without it breaking. And, I can also do poached eggs for the masses and get them all up at once, hot and perfectly cooked.

How ‘bout them apples?

Swimming With Sharks

We cruised down to the Exumas on Friday afternoon, and of course, just when I couldn’t imagine a place being any more gorgeous than where we were – we arrived at a place even more so – dropping anchor at Big Majors beach, on a small, unpopulated island near Fowl Cay, Sampson Cay and Staniel Cay. I looked out my galley window at a white sand beach and the bluest ocean I had ever seen, the sun smiling its shining face upon us. Two un-human looking mounds on the otherwise unpopulated beach caught my attention. I thought they were piles of sand – but one mound was dark brown and the other had a pinkish tinge. I stared hard wondering if it was driftwood or what those mounds could possibly be. Then they moved! And low and behold, it was two fat pigs – working on their tans! Local folklore says that the pigs were put on the island so that if a big storm ever wiped everything out, the locals from the other islands could come over and eat the pigs; another story being that pigs are put there every year, fattened up by the visitors coming by to feed them and then slaughtered and eaten on Easter. Whatever the truth, I won’t ever know – but there were two big, fat sows on the beach and about six all together on the island and all day long people pulled up in dingies and skiffs to feed and pet the pigs. Used to being fed, the pigs spend their day lounging in the sand and whenever a boat pulls up, they just trot right into the water and swim right up to the boat to be fed and petted!!! Now, those are some lucky pigs…

That afternoon I helped with the wash down of the yacht as our 1st mate had jumped on the Boston Whaler with the owners’ son about 50 miles back and they were fishing their way to us. The sky was smudged like a painter’s palette with pink, turquoise and gold as the sun began to set – a Boston Whaler off in the distance cutting across the skies reflection on the water, like a razor blade through a painting. The mate radioed in, and when we answered his call, he just yelled “WAHHHOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!”, over the din of a roaring engine and VHF crackle. And Wahoo it was as they pulled up aside us with four giant fish in a cooler of ice on the back of the fishing boat. Within moments of tying up to us, our mate had whipped out a huge knife (I was waiting for the ubiquitous, “that’s not a knife. THIS is a knife”, Crocodile Dundee style. But it never came) and began filleting the Wahoo, handing me eight large fillets and tossing the bones, heads, skin and guts overboard. Apparently, Aussies don’t have the same affinity for eating fish eyeballs and cooking the heads as the South Africans and local islanders do. Those fish heads would start a war on some of the other yachts I’ve been on…

I carried the fillets to the galley in big, plastic bags. I’d never seen Wahoo before. It had a firm, white flesh, slightly transparent – I’d heard it was tasty so I was eager to cook with it. I cut out the blood line, trimmed it up and began portioning; wrapping the steaks in plastic wrap and sticking them in Ziplocs for the freezer – of course, leaving some aside for the next days lunch... I ended up freezing over 10 lbs. of Wahoo!

It was our mates 30th birthday and the owners were taking all of the crew out to celebrate! We had dinner reservations at a beautiful restaurant on a private resort on Fowl Cay. As time was cutting short to get ready for our reservation, I made a bee-line for my cabin and changed into my swimsuit. I had been wet and sweaty all day from the wash down, and now I smelled like fish. I ran down the corridor of the crew mess, out the door to the transom and dove off into the cool, clear Bahamian waters – feeling instantly refreshed. The fact that I was diving into freshly chummed waters not quite registering enough to give me pause. I pulled myself up onto the Whaler, rinsed off, and ran back inside to finish getting dressed.

We have underwater lights on the yacht which glow for another 80 feet off of the back end and as I was standing on the transom waiting to climb onto the tender to head to dinner, I looked out at the water just as a 7 FOOT SHARK swam out from underneath us! I hollered out, “SHARK! SHARK!”. We all watched in awe as this giant, beautiful creature swam off into the darkness. That vague notion that I’d had about diving into freshly chummed waters suddenly became very poignant. I don’t think I’ll be so quick to do that in the future!

Don’t think for a second that our 1st Mates birthday celebrating ended with our evening out… It extended into a weekend long event! After a beautiful dinner of steak and lobsters, margaritas and plenty of wine, we zoomed off in the tender heading for Clube Thunderball on Staniel Cay to hear a rake & scrape band. Rake & Scrape is the Bahamian answer to the reggae of the Caribbean. With a faster tempo and a definitively Latino flair, it’s like Salsa or Marengue, only island style… Oh, and the reason for the name of the music being called “rake & scrape”? It’s played with a washboard, saw and drums of course!

We pulled up to the doc at Thunderball and walked up the hill to a small, open-air, building sitting atop the island. Music blared out of the screen windows, but when we walked inside the band was sitting at the bar having drinks and the music was coming from a stereo. We ordered drinks – Anejo rum and ginger-ale being the beverage of choice for the evening. An hour or so later the band came on, played two or three songs then went back to the bar to drink. That’s island life for you, three songs and it’s time to call it a night…

In the wee hours of the morning we headed back to the yacht. It’s great going out and having fun with the owners – but the challenge is that we have to work the next day while the owners get to sleep in and relax!

For lunch the next day I made a spicy, gingered cole slaw with cabbage, carrots, peppers, scallions, and cilantro and sesame seeds. For the vinaigrette, I put into a blender a few shallots, lemongrass (the soft inner part, finely minced), ginger (peeled and minced), lime juice, rice wine vinegar, curry paste and a bit of coconut milk and blended it up.

After cutting the fish into big cubes for kabobs I marinated it in fresh orange juice and orange zest, a small amount of lime, Chinese 5-Spice, soy, ginger, scallions, lemongrass and sesame oil. I skewered the Wahoo and threw the skewers onto a very hot grill and pulled them off while the inside was still just a little pink so they would stay nice and juicy.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

A few provisions

This is how you provision a yacht...

H. 3ft x L. 4ft x W 2.5 ft.

(This freezer is packed at least 4 layers deept - and there are still 3 more freezers!)

The drawers in the fridge
- packed so that I won't have to go shopping for at least 7 days!

The drawers of the fridge packed with produce.

Underneath the settee in the breakfast knook:
Dry goods - enough to last for quite a few months. The back of the settee, as well, is stocked with shelf-stable milk, soymilk, bottles of olive oil, stocks, etc.

Captain took a picture of the freezers. Says I'm the neatest and best provisioner of all the chefs that have been aboard! :o)

Shippin' Out

Tilapia Cooked in Brazilian Maquecca wth Green Bananas

Quinoa Pilaf with Soy Peas

Avocado and Tomato Salad

Manatee’s accompanied us on part of our journey down the river early in the day, from the Westport Marina to Pier 66. The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent packing the yacht for our passage and getting a good nights rest for a very early departure. We escaped Fort Lauderdale under a midnight sky, the stars hidden by the bright lights of the shipping docks and cruise ships. Tight, four-foot waves and the wind on our nose; it felt as if we were on an ice-breaker in the Baltic Sea until we passed through the Gulf Stream, which only lasted about an hour; but four-foot waves were welcome compared to my first experience in the Gulf Stream, and the rest of our passage was as smooth as glass. The passage was a mere 10-hour trip spent snoozing, playing a game of checkers on a magnetized board, and as always, marveling at the endless expanse of ocean around us (and eating lots of pretzels). And yet, even for such a short trip, everything must be packed away as if we were doing a transatlantic; glasses and decorations packed tightly away, towels stuffed into cabinets so that nothing rolled or clanked, galley stuffed full of provisions and some pre-made sandwiches (just in case I got seasick)…

At mid-day we pulled into the resplendent sanctuary of Lyford Cay, in the Bahamas. A tiny, quiet marina with a handful of magnificent yachts; we tied up next to a classic 80 ft. (1977) Palmer-Johnson Schooner with a hand carved wooden mermaid at the bow, and rope and wooden foot ladders going up the sides of the masts. The marina is surrounded by well-manicured gardens of tropical flora and fauna; mangroves and palm trees hiding opulent homes in pastel pinks, blues and yellows; stoic cranes stand guard, protecting the privileged inhabitants of this regal cay. The crews big complaint was that Lyford was too far from the hustle and night life of Paradise Island and Atlantis with its casinos, night clubs and bars. But after spending a month in Fort Lauderdale surrounded by nothing but strip malls, fast food, car dearlerships and dry docks, I found the peace and quiet of this little tropical paradise, sublime. And when the rest of the crew took off to Paradise Island for a night on the town, I opted to throw on my trainers and go for a run underneath a brilliant Bahamian night sky with only the starlight lighting my way. The air smelled faintly of ocean and honeysuckle, a gentle breeze at my back. Where the waters run clear and warm, palm trees and sunshine are plentiful, worries, wars and inflation are forgotten, shoes are optional – this is where I feel the most at home. I am home again; finally, finally home again.

For lunch before our departure, I made the crew Maquecca; a Brazilian dish fist made for me by my Brazilian friend, Michelli, an awesome chef who worked with me when I had my catering business. I love this dish and I think it brings together all the flavors of the tropics and seeing as I was pining so hard to get out of Lauderdale, I made this for the crew on our last day to get everyone in the spirit of the adventure that lay ahead.

I started out by dicing lots of onion, about 1 ½ medium yellow ones; her recipe called for green peppers but all that I had were pablanos so I used 2 of those instead and diced them up, along with 1 ½ yellow peppers, three tomatoes and 4 cloves of garlic. I cooked the onion, peppers and tomatoes together in a big pan with a bit of oil until they were soft. To that I added sweet paprika, smoked Spanish paprika, cumin, chopped fresh coriander (cilantro) and a can of coconut milk and let it simmer (and of course, adjusted the salt). When the flavors had all mingled and happily gotten to know each other, I added 4 fillets of Tilapia (properly seasoned) – laying them right on top of the Maquecca – placed a lid on it and let it simmer away until the fish was fully cooked. While that simmered, I boiled some (peeled) green bananas in salted water, chopped them up and served them alongside the Maquecca. Rather than rice, I made a quinoa pilaf with soy peas as a healthy alternative, and made an avocado and tomato salad with lime and cilantro vinaigrette. It was a hit and the crew gobbled it all down, with a few homemade chocolate-chip cookies for the road…

Monday, December 11, 2006

Like Sniffing Glue - Only Funner

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

Rack of Lamb Marinted in Homemade Yogurt and Spices

With Fresh Mint Chutney

Wild Rice Pilaf with Cranberries and Apples

Grilled Asparagus

Chocolate and Orange Flower Pot de Crème with Komquats

Passion Fruit-Coconut Pana Cotta

The owners came aboard last Sunday just for the day, to meet me and try my cooking. There wasn’t much ambience to be had as we were out of the water and the boat was strewn with equipment and supplies and canvas covers over the floors and furniture.


The owners decided to have the crew join in and they all gathered around the dining table in the galley (it’s a big open kitchen with a country style dining table and bar stools at the counter), watching me cook. The butterflies in my stomach flapped madly trying to escape as I grew increasingly nervous having all eyes on me while I worked. I broke a sweat running up and down the stairs to check my lamb as it sizzled away on the grill outside on the fly deck. In a boat yard filled with the fumes of paint, apoxy and petrol – I’m sure it was the best smell ever to come off of a yacht “on the hard” (out of the water).


I’d made my own yogurt a few days before from a culture that I bought at the health food store. It worked out perfectly, although it took nearly 24 hours to set to my desired tartness and firmness – perhaps because of the air condition, the coolness slowed the process. The taste was tangy and fresh and the crew loved it when I gave them a try with some fresh mango sliced on top… Early in the day, I separated out the chops and marinated them in my homemade yogurt with turmeric, cumin, cinnamon, coriander, ginger, garlic, lime juice and cilantro.


The panna cotta I had made the day before; layering the passion fruit, letting it gel, then layering the coconut mixture. And the pot de crème came from a recipe from Cooks Illustrated, to which I embellished with Grand Marnier and Orange Flower water and garnished with homemade whipped cream and thin slices of tart, sweet komquats.

The first course went down, but I wasn’t in the galley to hear the comments as I was making my 15th run up the stairs, through the pilot house and out on deck to check on the lamb. All was good as the chops sizzled away, the cast iron grill leaving a beautiful grillage. Judging by the empty bowls on my return, the first course went over well.

I pulled the hot plates from the oven and plated dinner. All grew quiet as the crew and owners began to eat. The Mister looked up first and said that it was spectacular, next the Misses, commenting about how fresh and healthy everything was, the Captain (who used to be a chef!), saying that he loved how vibrant all the flavors were. Great, two courses down, one to go…

The butterflies started to settle. I went to plate dessert, but my panna cotta’s weren’t inverting as nicely as I had hoped. The coconut layer was separating from the passion fruit layer. Thank god I made extra! I decided, since I’d made them in nice, glass dessert bowls, to leave them and I garnished the top with a start-fruit chip that I had made earlier in the day by slicing the fruit, poaching them in ginger simple syrup, placing them on a silpat and baking them at 195 (farenheit) for about 2 hours – until they became paper-thin and crisp.

I put out the dessert. The Mister doesn’t care for chocolate and when I mentioned Grand Marnier and placed the panna cotta in front of him, he became noticeably sad that it wasn’t his dessert that contained the booze and that he had gotten something fruity instead of rich and decadent. But, the sad face quickly disappeared as he devoured the panna cotta, all the while asking me questions about how it was made, what was in it, etc.

I sat with the owners at the dining room table, we talked about wine and food and they licked their dessert bowls as I gnawed on a lamb bone. It was all very casual. They asked how I began cooking and we talked about their food preferences (they eat anything – lucky me!), and their holiday traditions. Looks like I’ll be whipping up my first oyster stew this Christmas Eve, and they love to fish and hunt so there will be lots of quail, pheasant and fresh catch… Looking forward to it.

I got a nice email from them the next day exclaiming their pleasure at my cooking. It will be a great season, I can already tell. The crew are more than thrilled to have me on board and the captain has already said that I am not allowed to quit, I’m the best chef they’ve had so far (and they’ve been through a lot!).

Fresh Mint Chutney

1/2 cup fresh mint leaves

½ cup fresh cilantro leaves

3 shallots, finely chopped

3 scallions, finely chopped

1 ½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon ground corriander

¼ teaspoon salt.

Combine all ingredients in blender and puree until smooth. If chutney requires thinning, add a small amount of water or yogurt, until you reach desired consistency.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Thunder from Down Under

Cheese Toasties with Vegemite

Things have been absolutely hectic for the past week as we get the yacht ready for our departure to the Exumas, in the Bahama’s, on Tuesday. We were out of the water, in the yard, for four days having some work done on the engine and I have some really awesome pictures of the yard and us being hauled out that I will post as soon as I have internet access on my laptop. Being out of the water and surrounded by other mega yachts (they are so much bigger out of the water!) is like being surrounded by a dozen Titanics. It’s almost awe inspiring to walk amongst them. The crew that I work with are fantastic, they are all a bunch of monkeys and we got on well and are having a lot of fun as we work our fingers to the bone; cleaning, detailing, provisioning, etc.

I’m loving my new galley; yards of granite counter space, beautiful wood floors and cabinetry and extremely well equipped. And thankfully, my galley is on the main deck so I have a beautiful view out of my port and starboard sides; full windows all the way across, no more looking through a tiny porthole and watching the water slosh by. And, if I should want to watch some re-runs of Julia Child’s cooking series on PBS all I have to do is turn on the giant, plasma, widescreen television on the wall across from me. I have a four burner gas stove, and although it’s gas it is pretty responsive and works well. But, I am putting “induction stove” on my wish list as the owners are currently looking into upgrading to a 130” (45 meter) Fedship. Along with the fridge and freezer in the galley, I also have a coffin freezer in the laundry room and two more freezers down near the engine room, plenty of storage space – but it will all be packed to the brim before we depart.

My first order of business has been to get my pantry together and start provisioning for the passage which has required no less than two trips to Costco, at least a dozen trips to the grocery store (filling up two grocery carts per visit), six trips to the gourmet store and two large deliveries directly to the yacht from provisioners. There are two great shops down here; The International Market and the Grateful Palette. I was first told about International Market by some Australian yachties that I met at the crew house. They were talking about their excitement over finding TimTams, an Australian cookie (or biscuit, as they call them); a chocolate wafer, covered in chocolate and with a chocolate filling. The biscuits are rectangular in shape, and the Aussie’s do what they call “slammers” – bite each end off, put the biscuit in coffee and suck it through. I have yet to experience a slammer, as I haven’t wanted to sacrifice one of my shirts in the mess that is sure to happen, but I did get a pack of TimTams to try and I was really enjoying them until I read on the package that each cookie is 340 calories. I think I’ll wait another couple of decades before I delve into them again.

The international market is full of all sorts of goodies. Catering to yacht chefs, they carry everything from gelatin sheets, gourmet chocolate and vanilla beans to sumac, za’atar, pomegranate syrup and grape leaves and whatever they don’t have, The Grateful Palate, just a few blocks away, will. Unlike the International market, The Grateful Palate is a full fledged provisioner – meaning they supply fish, meat, produce, specialty ingredients, wine, kitchen equipment, etc. to the yachts. I can just call in my order and it will be delivered to wherever the yacht is in Fort Lauderdale, or shipped to the yacht anywhere in the world for that matter. It’s really quite an amazing world to be a part of; I mean a world where the best of everything and anything you could possibly want is, literally, a phone call away. And it’s my job to know that number…

My first season in the yacht world was all about meeting South Africans. But this season is setting out to be the season of the Kiwi’s and the Aussies. I landed this job through an Aussie that was staying at the crew house that knew a captain in need of a chef, and put me in touch. Our 1st Mate is an Aussie, and I’ve been making Aussie friends left and right. It was another Aussie that put me in touch with the Grateful Palate, as it seems to be the only place in town carrying Vegemite (Yes, that Men At Work song goes through my head every time I look at a jar of Vegemite), which I had to stock up on for our mate.

Vegemite is a “yeast extract”. It comes in a squat, brown, glass jar with a bright yellow label and in a big red triangle reads “VEGEMITE - Concentrated Autolyzed Yeast Extract”. What, precisely, that means, I’m not entirely sure but whatever it is, I am TOTALLY ADDICTED. It’s dark brown in color and thick and creamy, like peanut butter, or an overly reduced demi-glaze. But unlike peanut butter, Vegemite is meant to be used in a very small quantity. I find the smell to be quite pleasant; fermentation and must – like a wine barrel. It’s got a yeasty, fermented, savory flavor; exactly what I would imagine umami to be. Like The Colonels chicken, it contains that same secret ingredient that makes you crave it fortnightly. I love it; on toast in the morning with butter and a thin layer of Vegemite, or on a toasted cheese sandwich. I can’t seem to get enough of it! I tried Marmite last year when I was working with a bunch of Brits (Marmite is the British version of Vegemite) and I don’t recall reacting with the same fervor. In fact, I was very much put off by it. Marmite was quite pungent and had a funky aftertaste that clung to my mouth. I found it a bit overpowering. Whereas Marmite reminds me of something indiscernible, perhaps fish related, fermenting and rotting in a jar – Vegemite tastes like super concentrated beer. Perhaps that’s why I like Aussie’s so much! ;o)

Vegemite Sandwich:

Spread a little butter on bread, apply a thin layer of vegemite and then top with cheese. Put under the broiler until cheese is melty and warm. Eat. Savor. Enjoy.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Life of a galley slave

We’re in Fort Lauderdale for a yard period having a bunch of work done on the yacht before we venture out to the Bahama’s and the Caribbean. Varnishers, painters and engineers are scurrying around the yacht like worker ants from dawn to dusk. And from what I can gather, the captain has had his cell phone surgically implanted into his head while he runs around overseeing the workers and making his way through his own lengthy To Do list. The first mate is off taking his yacht master course and so I haven’t even met him yet, and our stewardess is taking a Silver Service course, given by a yachting agency, which means that I have nothing but peace and quiet while I get my galley together.

My first order of business has been to sort through every cabinet, pantry and food storage area in the galley; inventory the existing provisions; clean out the freezers and refrigerator; get rid of the old and make room for the new… As the yacht hasn’t had a chef in over a month the cupboards, for the most part, are bare except for a few essentials. The refrigerator too was looking pretty empty but much in need of a thorough cleaning. In the past, when I’ve taken over a new galley I’ve been amazed by the weird things that the previous chef has bought; boxed cake mixes (so simple to make your own), sauce packets (not a fan), Spam (people actually eat that stuff?) – and so of course, this was no exception. I filled garbage bags with out of date scone mixes, hollandaise sauce packets and unlabeled bags of mystery food from the freezer; scrubbed out the fridge with bleach and sorted through all of the dry goods. Then, it was off to the store for my first provisioning trip and 32 bags of groceries later, I now have a galley in which I can cook. But, there will be many, many more trips to the market before we are ready to hit the seas.

In my trip through the store yesterday I picked up freeze-dried yogurt culture (from a health food store) and one of my first orders of business today is to make my own yogurt. While I was back in New York recuperating from my knee injury, I spent some time interloping in friends kitchens around the city – one of them being Restaurant Devi – where they made there own yogurt and which was probably the best yogurt I have ever eaten in my life. So, I figure, it should take no time at all and then I can bust out some mango lassi’s for a crew snack one day… I’ll be sure to update on my yogurt making process on the blog….

Today will be spent inventorying the remaining three freezers and adding to my never ending provisions list, another trip to the grocery store, and cooking for the crew for the first time (the captain has told me to hold off cooking until the galley is in order and instead has been taking me and the stewardess to dinner, along with another captain from the yard and some of his crew). The captain and crew have requested some healthy faire to reverse the effects of all the late nights at Waxy’s (the local crew bar) so I’m planning on grilling an Asian marinated flank steak, some sugar snap peas, mushrooms and peppers tossed with sesame oil and brown rice with toasted almonds and scallions, and a curried butternut squash soup. Fortunately, the crew eat just about anything – so no vegetarians, or picky eaters here. Lucky me.

The owners will be dropping by the yard on Sunday and staying aboard for dinner on Sunday night. This will be my first chance to meet and cook for them…

I’ll be getting some pictures up over the weekend…

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Back in the game...

Well, I landed a new job and as of this morning, I'm the chef aboard a 112 foot Westport Motor Yacht.

I'm one of four crew and the owners use the yacht for about two weeks a month. It's private and doesn't charter, but the owners like to entertain a lot so I should be pretty busy! The galley is gorgeous, I have tons of counter space, granite counters, huge refrigerator and a six burner stove (electric, unfortunately - but gas is rare on a yacht). The kitchen is open to a small dining room, but when the owners are on board they will usually eat out on deck or in the formal dining room.

Currently, we’re in Fort Lauderdale but as of December 10th we will be heading down to the Bahama's where we will stay through the New Year. After which we'll be going down to the Caribbean for the remainder of the winter - all over, the BVI's, West Indies, Eastern Caribbean, wherever the owners want to go. Sometime around June we'll be heading back up to the Bahama's where we'll stay for a couple of months before working our way the East Coast of North America to Nova Scotia, where we’ll be spending some time in Prince Edwards Island (which I hear is gorgeous)!

A few perks of the yacht: Although this was not a deciding factor (although I’ll have to set my standards higher now and make it a requirement on any yacht I join), we have TWO VESPA'S!!! YEAHHH!!! We also have two glass bottomed canoes, a 20 foot tender, two jet ski's and we tow a 32 foot Boston Whaler! Oh, and let's not forget the jacuzzi... Oh, and scuba equipment for six, how could I forget that?!

Oh, and did I mention, our deck hand is a dive instructor so I can work towards my scuba certification while I'm on board (everyone on the yacht are big divers and the owners want the crew certified!).

The downside? Well, I'll be sharing a 7 foot by 4 foot cabin with the stewardess and I have one tiny drawer for my belongings - which, honestly, is not even enough space to fit my shoes... But I'll make do. I’m sure we can tow another yacht along side for my belongings…

Anyway, I'm really excited. The crew are all relatively young (I'm actually the oldest - I'm really going to have to start lying about my age). There are three Americans (including me) and an Aussie. And yes, the cards are in my favor, the boys are all CUTE! Yeah me!

The boat has a really excellent reputation for working aboard and the owners, although quirky (who isn't?) are supposedly really nice people. They allow the crew a lot of liberties and they make sure that all the crew get off the yacht in any ports that we are in so that we can see the place...

So, finally, I'm back on water and the next post will be from the yacht!!! The next adventure of the Wayward Chef has begun ladies and gentlemen!!! Stay tuned…

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The adventure continues...

So much going on, so much to write about and so little time in the day...

My life has been reduced to a 5x5 storage locker on Manhattans Lower East Side, the hippest neighborhood I've ever been able to afford. I left NYC on November 7 and spent a week eating my way through Northern California - a stop at Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes, dozens of Hog Island Oysters, BBQ in Jack London Square, and great Tapas in Napa...

I arrived yesterday in Fort Lauderdale, FL determined to find a new yacht to cook on after the 6-month leave I had to take due to my knee inury. Holy cow, knee's take a LONG TIME to heal! But, I am so glad to be looking for work again and CAN'T WAIT to find the perfect yacht...

I had two interviews yesterday with crew agencies, one today and hopefully an interview tomorrow aboard a 100 ft. motor-yacht heading to the Bahama's. We'll see what the future has in store.

Stay tuned, the adventure continues...

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

because every food blogger has to blog about hamburgers

Hamburgers are one of those things that I could never cook for myself and enjoy. It is the food of kicking back and relaxing, it’s a craving happily satiated, it’s a night off – and if I’m going to have a hamburger, damn it, it had better be good.

I’ve noticed an outcropping of trendy burger “eateries” popping up around the city over the past year or so, places offering organic burgers on homemade bread, every incarnation of veggie burger, turkey burger, bison burger, kobi burger, etc. All these places seem to have a very modern-trendy, clean lined and sterile feel about them – not entirely unlikable, but when I think hamburger I feel much more drawn to the places better referred to as a ‘joint’ rather than an ‘eatery’.

I confess to being totally biased on the subject of what environment I like to eat my hamburger in, to the point that I haven’t even stepped foot in one of these newfangled hamburger places. Perhaps, for posterity or in the name of scientific research, I should check one of these places out. But when I want a burger I don’t want a white table clothe restaurant, I don’t want to be staring out the window checking out the shoes and handbags of the passers-by on the streets, or pompously displayed New Yorker, Zagat and/or Wine Spectator reviews stuck on the wall. I want a place where unfettered pleasure is the goal; a place where I can guiltlessly and blissfully throw down a pint and a burger without being reminded that there are vegetarians in this world, without having to debate whether I should go for the healthier choice on the menu, without having to choose whether I want foie gras or truffles. I want the decision making process to be simple and straightforward, streamlined in fact. Choice 1: Hamburger, Choice 2: Cheeseburger. Choice 3: There is no choice 3. Rare/ Medium Rare/ Medium/ Well (God forbid!). I don’t want a bun so thick or crusty that I must disconnect my jaw, like a boa constrictor, before taking the first splendid bite. I don’t want some fruity, homemade ketchup or fancy ingredients.

I want it medium-rare on a soft, white, fluffy cloudlike bun. Mayo, pickles, lettuce and ketchup. Lots and lots of ketchup. Ketchup on the bun, ketchup to dip it in. I love ketchup. I hate broccoli. And much to my parents dismay, that’s just about the only thing a Bush president and I will ever agree upon. But I digress.

One of my favorite places to get a hamburger is Café Fanelli on Prince and Mercer. That place never ceases to be an experience. A dark wood interior, long bar and comfy barstools, old black and white boxing pictures line the walls, two-tops in a row along the wall opposite the bar, the staff as checkered as the table clothes. The tattooed and pierced waitresses have a look like you’d better be careful how you behave or they just might kick your ass. The bartenders are salty, surly and sarcastic – just the way I like them. The clientele too is a pretty checkered bunch. The same drunk has been at the end of the bar since I first started going there eight years ago, and their is a cross between old-school SoHo artists (can you say, “rent controlled apartment”?), a few businessmen, a tourist or two and a few starlets who’ve wandered in off the street to use the toilet. The place is strangely unchanged and unaffected by the retail storm that has slaughtered much of the neighborhood charm, unfazed by the mignons of fashionistas and bankers that have come through its doors and replaced the old artists, bohemians and mobsters of yesteryear. Amazingly, it maintains a little bit of what the rest of SoHo used to be - brash, eccentric, and smug.

They have a decent burger served on a soft onion roll. But the pickles are on the side, and aren’t cut for proper placement on a hamburger. Their fries are good and they have Heffeweisen, Guiness, Stella, Bass and Brooklyn Lager on tap on tap so I can’t complain.

But recently, I found a new favorite hamburger joint (sacre bleu!). And I can’t believe it, but I was taken there by friends from South Africa! How is it that someone from S.A. knows where to get a great burger in this town without me knowing about that place first?! Impossible, or so I thought. I was hesitant but by my friends description, I knew I had to investigate.

We pulled up on 56th Street in my friends bright orange rental car. It was like riding in a pumpkin, perfect for the season. By some strange stroke of luck (that I never seem to have), we found a parking spot right in front of the Le Parker Meridien Hotel and I thought to myself, how good could it really be? We walked into the grandiose lobby; polished, chic and trendy and I thought, “oh no, here we go”. We ducked behind a long, curtained wall behind the front desk and I felt like Jody Foster in Contact when she slid through the worm hole to another dimension. Suddenly I was in this tiny cube shaped hovel, maybe 400 square feet – maybe. Ramones and Soprano’s posters adorned the wood panneled walls, thick wood tables and walls carved up with initials “J.M.” heart “B.L.”, autographs, stickers from the women’s roller ball league, a few carved-up, vandalized booths, a large communal table in the middle. The counter and kitchen open to view and two guys working – one taking orders, the other flipping burgers over a flaming grill. And the best part was the smell – it smelled like grill smoke, char and sizzling meat. The menu was written in magic marker on torn cardboard and states:

If you aren’t ready you go to the back of the line.

They also had fries, milkshakes, Sam Adams and sodas.

I waited in line and mulled my choice, sure to be prepared when it was my turn at the front. I wasn’t going to be sent to the back of the line for not having my order ready. I waited and waited and like a good New Yorker, when I got to the front of the line and spat out my order so quickly the guy told me to slow down and repeat myself…

After a weekend of gluttony cooking (and drinking) up a storm at a friends farm in Pennsylvania, a stop for lunch at my favorite Middle-Eastern restaurant in Bay Ridge where we gorged ourselves yet again, I thought that there was no way I would possibly be hungry for dinner, much less a hamburger. I was thinking more like Perrier and a lemon…

But once I smelled that fine, fine smell of fat dripping into a fiery grill, I was suddenly famished. It was my dream come true and I was taken their by a tourist! Say it isn’t so… The burger was great, the flaming grill leaving its stamp on every tasty bite. The pickles fit, the bun was soft and fluffy. Perfection. I can’t wait, wait, wait to go back again – many more times before I leave for the Caribbean.

The Crew at The Hamburger Joint at Le Parker Meridien

On a side note, I know many New Yorkers will say Corner Bistro (Burger Bistro, as some call it) is the place to go for burgers. It was my favorite for years – but ever since a friend of mine got a glue trap with a rat on it stuck to his foot there, I can’t ever go back.

So happy to have finely found a decent replacement. Plus, you won’t have to endure the frat boys and drunk chicks at The Burger Joint.

The Burger Joint at Le Parker Meridien
118 W. 57th Street
Between 6th and 7th

Cafe Fanelli
Corner of Mercer and Spring

Monday, October 09, 2006

Bollywood Nights

If I died tomorrow and went to Heaven, it would smell like the prep kitchen at Devi.

The air was fragrant with the intoxicating aroma of roasted spices - cardamom, coriander, cumin, fenugreek, asafetida and cinnamon; and the walk-in full of kuri leaves by the sack full, fresh ginger and chilies. I was dilerious by the smell of it all and didn’t hear a word the pastry chef was telling me as we entered the walk-in and she pointed out which side the dairy was on, where the produce was kept, the prepped veg, the fruits for desserts, etc. The squeal of a Bollywood soundtrack played in my head as I drifted into a world of coal rimmed eyes, bright sari’s, tabla’s, sitars and spicy food. The sultry, heady aroma of curries, masalas and biryanis stealing my attention away like an opiate… I was pulled reluctantly back to reality as we stepped out of the walk-in and back into the prep kitchen and I realized that every word Surbi had just told me in the walk-in had gone in one ear and out the other. All I wished for was some time alone in there and a spoon so that I could sample from each and every brightly colored quart container. I was completely transfixed, I’d found olfactory nirvana, my taste buds salivated. I closed my eyes and drew one more deep breath before the walk-in doors closed and I returned to my prep station in a spice induced haze.

My prep list included making shortbread dough spiced with fresh, green cardamom and garam masala, cardamom kulfi (Indian ice-cream made with milk cooked until it is thick and sweet), mango panna cota, tangerine and saffron custard, black cardamom and bittersweet chocolate truffles. A circle of prep cooks gathered around a table listening to the Dead Can Dance while making trays of lentil cakes and samosa, mincing chilis and peeling sweet potatoes. Another prep cook made potato croquettes spiced with chilis, cilantro, ginger, cumin and curry, another one still was busy decorating miniature spiced pineapple cakes. I was in bliss as I weighed and measured.

Cardamom Kulfi (Indian Ice-Cream)
layered with pistachio's and a passion fruit sauce

I figured staff meal had to be good but was afraid I’d missed it as I hadn’t arrived until after 1 o’clock. But luck shined down upon me and at 3 o’clock and I was invited to dine with the rest of the kitchen staff. A cook peeled away the aluminum foil hiding the contents of a deep hotel pan. Inside was a thick, green sauce with yogurt, curry spices and cilantro, chicken and potatoes. Another tray held fragrant jasmine rice and another of naan bread, fresh from the tandoori and still warm. The naan was perfect, lightly chard on the outside, slightly sweet and chewy on the inside. We gathered around the steel tables of the prep kitchen, sitting on glass racks tipped on their side, the pastry chef handed me a bowl of heavily spiced black beans and a friendly banter was tossed back and forth among the kitchen crew and the wait staff like a game of Frisbee on a sunny day in the park. Never before have I enjoyed staff meal quite so much…

Pears with funagreek leaves for a sweet and tangy chutney cook on a giant burner along with peas cooked with mint chutney, cumin and chilies for pea croquettes

Day two was full of rolling spicy pea croquettes, shaping tandoori salmon and crab cakes, cooking down pear chutney, coating cashew brittle in tempered chocolate and gold dust, cutting out fruit jellies and rolling them in sugar. The salmon for the salmon and crab cakes was coated in a red, tangy tondoori sauce and skewered in big chunks on long steel rods, over two feet in length and placed in the tandoori to roast. When trays of it were brought down to the prep kitchen, several cooks (me included) took the liberty of sampling it – we had to making sure it was up to snuff, and it was…

Salmon in the Tandoori

Staff meal this time was yellow curry with potatoes, peas and chicken. Although delicious, I had to comment to Jonathan, the youngest of the kitchen crew, that perhaps curry for lunch everyday might get old. He laughed and said that he didn’t want to burst my bubble by telling me that the day before.

The crew worked away in the prep kitchen and every once in a while chef Hermant, squat and round with his smoldering black eyes and thick black moustache, would come down and make sure that the prep was moving along smoothly, and switching between Spanish and Hindi as he guided and advised the kitchen crew.

I’ll be hanging in the kitchen of Devi for the next few weeks doing some recipe testing with the pastry chef, learning a few new tricks. Then, in just 22 days – it’s off to the Caribbean

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Rolling in the Dough

29 days left in New York City and then I’m out of here… It’s off to the Caribbean or Florida although I’m not sure where exactly. We’ll see which way the wind blows…

I’ve given up my apartment and am leaving New York once and for all – not an easy task given that I have lots of friends and family here and New York has this way of roping me back in. I’ve been trying to leave for five years now! But those Caribbean waters are calling my name. A fellow yachty and I have been talking about sharing an apartment down in St. Martin for the season and I’m also considering getting a place in either Miami or Fort Lauderdale. Either way, I’ll be heading down to FL in a few weeks time to meet with some crew agencies and friends that have arrived from the Mediterranean. I’ve sent out my cv to crew agencies, emailed crew friends and looking to jump on a boat sometime in November. The Caribbean season doesn’t really get going until mid-December, but there should be plenty of work doing deliveries from the Med and the US down to the Caribbean.

As of November 1, I no longer have a place to live! AH! This should scare me, but it doesn’t. To some, it would seem inconceivable to give up an apartment and have no place to “live”, throwing caution to the wind and just taking off. But I feel free, and for me, that’s just how life works out best. Whenever I try to plan too much is when things start to go awry. I function much better just jumping in, and after last season on the yachts, I have a pretty good idea of what to expect, where to go and what the challenges will be. I can’t wait to be on the water again and feel the wind in my face. I feel totally optimistic about the coming season…

In the meantime, I’ve been keeping myself entertained by interloping in friends kitchens around New York. I spent the day today at the restaurant Barolo on West Broadway, learning to make fresh pasta! I went in this morning and met up with my friend, Maurizio, the chef – a bald-headed, overly caffeinated, Vespa riding Italian from Genoa. We met over a lengthy conversation at his bar the other night about chestnuts, as friends and I waited for a table for dinner. I’m preparing for an Iron Chef Chestnut cook-off at a friends farm in just a few weeks and pasta has been on my mind. So, I saw the chef and figured who better to talk to… We talked about savory chestnut cakes, chestnuts and game, and then he brought out some freshly prepared chestnut pasta to taste. After a great dinner (I had the cocoa pasta with wild mushrooms) and a ’78 Barolo, I decided to hit him up to let me hang out in his kitchen and learn to make pasta.

Maurizio put me in the capable hands of his master pasta maker, Manny. Expecting to walk into a hectic and chaotic environment, lots of bustling around, Manny perhaps being too busy to really show me his magic, I was pleasantly surprised that the kitchen was the exact opposite of what I'd anticipated. It was calm and sane as I walked downstairs into the prep kitchen; Mexican radio piping out of a flour dusted boom box, the butcher hand mincing lamb for a lamb ragout, another prep cook picking basil leaves and coring tomatoes. Something about Mexican music and foreign languages being spoken around me always makes me nostalgic for my time in restaurant kitchens…

Manny, a soft spoken and friendly Salvadoran, has been the resident pasta maker at Barolo for eight years and also moonlights as a pasta maker for other restaurants around the city. We started out the morning making 24 lbs. of pasta dough with eggs and durum flour; kneeding the dough in a giant mixer (you’d need Andre the Giant to kneed that amount of dough by hand!). He offered up the recipe: 18 lbs. of durum flour, 6 lbs. of a.p. flour, 50-something eggs. I declined writing it down, I don’t think I will ever be making that much pasta! Manny said he doesn’t need a recipe; he just goes by how it feels. And all along, as the dough was kneeding, Manny would grab a lump of dough and show me how the dough should feel – not too wet, not too dry, not too soft, not too hard. I fed a few pounds of dough at a time through a large pasta roller, which squished it out in thinner and thinner sheets - #3 for spaghetti, #1 for papparadell and ravioli.

We rolled and cut – busting out pounds of hand cut papparadell, linguini and spaghetti. Then we moved on to the ravioli making. Manny mixed up a batch of filling; ricotta, mascarpone, parmesan and lots of fresh herbs. After dusting them with semolina, he draped the ravioli molds with long, thin sheets of dough and showed me how to pipe in the filling. He worked like a machine, his dough was perfect, not a ripple out of place as he piped in the filling. Of course, when it was my turn to start piping, my raviolis really stood out – because each one was a different size! I didn’t quite have the trained precision that this pasta master had…

He said it was a slow day for him, not a lot to make (besides the 24 lbs. we’d just busted out), so we toured the walk-ins and he pointed out the black farfalle he’d made with squid ink, the chestnut linguini made with chestnut and chickpea flour, the cocoa pasta, apple and cheese filled ravioli’s, etc. Then, of course, it came time to sample and the chef set me up with a plate of apple and cheese filled ravioli’s with a lamb ragout. The ravioli’s were much lighter than expected and the lamb ragout was a delicious accompaniment to the mildly sweet filling.

On the way home, I stopped at the Buon Italia in the Chelsea Market and picked up chestnut, chickpea, durum and semolina flours to test out my new pasta making skills, and indoctrinate my new, hand-crank pasta machine…

Tomorrow I’ll be hanging with pastry chef Surbhi Sahni at the Indian restaurant Devi, on 18th Street in Manhattan, picking up some new tricks to bring to the Caribbean with me…

Ahhh, life is good.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Brooklyn Beet Off 2006

1st Annual Brooklyn “Beet” Off:

September 2006

Location: Kitchen Stadium Brooklyn

The Ingredient:

The Rules:

Use of Goat Cheese is Strictly Forbidden,

Arugula and Candied Walnuts are Highly Discouraged.

Wine must be a Chilled Red.

Iron Chef Amuse-Bouche: Cristina

Iron Chef Entrée: Michelli

Iron Chef Main: Greg

Iron Chef Dessert: Ian



Pan Seared Garam Masala Dusted Sea Scallops

Served in a Roasted Cipolini Cup

Red Beet, Bitter Orange, Cipolini and Pepita Chutney

Garnished with Beet Green-Chive Puree, Honeyed-Beet Puree and Toasted Coconut

Medici Ermete Reggiano Solo Tenuta Quercioli 2005


Beets Three Ways

La Poussie Sancerre 2003

Vodka Flambéed Golden Beet Soup

Roasted Golden Beets, Roasted Golden Tomatoes and Yellow Peppers

Candy Cane Beet Ravioli

With Salt Cod Ricotta and Garnished with Fresh Pea Shoots

Raw Yellow Pepper Pesto

Caprese Salad of Smoked Mozzerella, Tomatillos, Roasted Beets

And Sautéed Beet Greens in a Mustard-Lemon Vinaigrette


Red Beet Ricotta Lasagna with Fresh Egg Noodles

Garlic-Onion Bechamel, Greyere and Parmesan

Tuscan Bread with a Grape Must and Pumpkin Pesto

Salad of Wild Field Greens, Heirloom Tomatoes and Aged Balsamic Vinegar

Cantine Federiciane Monteleone Peninsola Sorrentina Gragnano 2005


Curried Farmers-Cheese Cheese Log

In a Sweet Beet Chip Cradle

Salted-Caramel and Roasted Golden Beet Ice Cream

And Red Beet Sorbet

Drizzled with White Truffle Honey

Les Clos De Paulilles Banyuls Rimage 2003


It was late in the afternoon and between the rain and endlessly subways delays, the cause of which came in a barely discernable announcement over the din of crackling loudspeakers and subway station acoustics, my trip to the Grand Army Farmers Market and to my favorite fish monger, Fish Tales in Cobble Hill, ended up taking ten times longer than expected. I jumped on the subway home, but I knew by my second transfer and making the trains within seconds of each other, that my luck would soon run out. And it did, at 59th Street when suddenly and without warning, the train was being put out of commission and there would be no more subways running on that line for the foreseeable future. Accepting my lot in life living on the worst possible subway line in New York City, rather than wait for a train that my never come, I hopped off and hoofed it the remaining 16 blocks to my house, weighed down with bags of scallops, beets, wine and various other ingredients. In three hours, three friends, all fellow professional cooks, would be arriving for our 1st Annual Brooklyn Beet Off, and I hadn’t even begun cooking. Iron Chef “Beets”, we’d been talking about it for weeks with the enthusiasm of five year olds at Christmas time. So many ideas, so many things we could do, and of course the double-entendres flowed like cheap beer at a college tailgate...

I’d walked through the farmers market, a basket of perfect cipolini onions called to me, for what, I wasn’t sure but I’d find some way of incorporating them into tonight’s dish. Back at home I carved them into little cipolini cups and began roasting them off in the oven while I prepared the chutney, beet green puree, beet puree and other little garnishes. Beet tops, a fresh and healthy plumage in green and red, made for a festive centerpiece jammed into an antique Ball Mason jar; with cinnamon sticks, nutmeg, peppercorns and chili’s working their way into the final display. I set the table, worked my way through my prep list and tried not to think too much about what everyone else might be doing (lest I starting get nervous about it).

At 7o’clock the doorbell rang. I felt as if Morimoto himself was waiting, I hurriedly rushed to greet my friends. Like a troupe of Cheshire Cats, they pranced through my door with their tales in the air, grinning from ear to ear. Each one of us knew we had stretched our imaginations and had something great up our sleeve. Michelli set to unpacking quart containers on to the speed rack. Ian was put to task on the laptop picking out this evenings soundtrack and Greg had the ever important task of making room in the refrigerator for the wine and assisting me with concocting some sort of martini. Throwing together seemingly random ingredients we created an espresso-coconut martini with a cardamom-sugar rim. Several toasts and a round of fresh pomegranate martini’s later and we were sufficiently lubricated set to begin.

I was the first up with an amuse-bouche. Amuse-bouches are fun because the possibilities are endless and it can be a little bite of just about anything, as long as it’s pretty and flavorful. An amuse make people feel doted upon and taken care of because it’s a surprise, something they weren’t expecting. And, because it’s just a simple bite, it’s a great opportunity to play up expensive ingredients – in my case, day boat scallops.

I sprinkled the scallops in garam masala, a blend of cumin, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, black pepper and nutmeg and then pan seared them. For the chutney, I caramelized cipolini’s, deglazed the pan with fresh orange juice and added orange zest, bitter orange marmalade, sugar, currants, pepita’s and spices. I did my best Kandinsky on the plate in beet puree and pureed beet tops, a roasted cipolini cup with two scallops topped with the beet chutney and garnished with toasted coconut, pepitas and long chives. Against black ceramic plates, the colors were bold and bright and made for a nice presentation. I only hoped that they would be as tasty in the mouth – and I think they were…

Prepared to be impressed, I watched as Michelli plated her masterpiece of Beets Three Ways. Roasted golden beets, roasted yellow peppers and roasted yellow tomatoes pureed into a bright golden soup and ladled into antique art-deco champagne glasses was lush and rich – the roasted vegetables giving it dimension and texture; thinly sliced candy cane beets fashioned into ravioli wrappers with an ethereal bacalla-ricotta filling and a raw yellow pepper pesto was fresh and vibrant in both presentation and flavor; beet “caprese” salad with smoked mozzarella and tomatillos all made for a sublime creation, beautifully presented and a delight to eat. Her pairing with an ‘03 La Poussie Sancerre was perfection.

Still basking in the glory of Italy’s World Cup win and in celebration of an up coming trip, Greg went strictly Italian with his creation, not only with his use of the Italian colors on his plate – but with his delicate pasta and bright, farmers market greens and heirloom tomato salad. Layering fresh egg noodles with a beet and ricotta mixture gave the lasagna a bright and festive look, the béchamel was light and well balanced, not heavy and laden as can often be the case, so the beets shined through and the sweetness was a nice counterpoint to the sauce. His use of Gruyere was a masterful act in that it added depth and dimension and played off of the more subtle flavors. Of course, Gruyere is a French cheese – but it’s said that Catherine di Midici’s cooks taught the French everything they know about food, so one way or another it can all be traced back to Italian.

The piece de resistance came in the form of dessert. None of us having a clue what the other was doing, we could only have imagined what this course would be like… The salted-caramel and roasted golden beet ice-cream with truffled honey was rich and intoxication, thick and creamy almost like a gelato, the contrast of salty and sweet played a game with our pallets and immediately making addicts of us all. The salt pushed and the sugar pulled and when the creamy-rich-salty-sweet became too much, a bite of the red beet sorbet proved to be the perfect pallet cleanser. Accompanying this heavenly creation was a curried farmers-cheese cheese log piped into a sweet-crispy beet chip – again a play on flavors and textures – and our taste buds loved it.

By the end of it all we were drunk on laughter, lively conversation and lots and lots of wine. And as my kindergarten teacher would say, “we’re all winners”.

For the next Brooklyn Iron Chef: Chestnuts paired with wines from the Mediterranean. Stay tuned…

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