Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Life... is... great...

Just another lousy day in paradise.


Our stewardess

Our 1st Mate

Someday I'll get back to my food writing, bread baking, ice-cream making... Someday, someday...

Monday, January 29, 2007

Jam Out With Your Clams Out

You know, like rock out with your… oh, never mind.

One thing I really miss in the Caribbean is shell fish; clams, oysters, mussels. The waters are too warm down here and just don’t support bivalve life – which makes me sad, because they are just such tasty little critters. So, I ordered frozen clams from a provisioner in Fort Lauderdale thinking that although I may not be able to have a heaping bowl of steamed clams in white wine broth, at least I can use them in another dish such as a seafood risotto, paella or as part of an hors-d’eouvre. The clams and mussels from the provisioner usually come pre-cooked on the half shell, but the provisioner sent me fresh clams by mistake. I called the fishmonger to see what was the best thing to do – steam them and freeze them, perhaps? He said to just throw them in the freezer, whole and in their shell and that they would be just fine. I was skeptical, but curious, so I threw them in the freezer, whole and in the shell.

I made a spicy callaloo soup a few weeks ago and thought a few steamed clams would be a nice garnish for the soup. So, I put a few of the frozen clams in a pot to see 1) if they would steam open. 2) how long would it take and 3) would the clams still taste good. Well, low and behold, you learn something new every day… The clams opened up perfectly in just a few minutes, taking maybe an extra minute or so since they were frozen and they tasted fresh and perfect! I was really surprised.

So, if you ever find yourself with an excess of fresh clams, just rinse them well (if need be, soak them so that they spit out their sand because you won’t be able to do this after you have frozen them), put them in a zip lock bag and throw them in the freezer. Then when you want to use them, just pop them in a pot and steam them open.

Also, oysters will stay fresh in your refrigerator for up to two months as long as you put them in the back part of the fridge (the coolest part) and keep them covered with a moist towel (re-moisten it daily) and drain any excess water out of the bottom of the pan.

Spicy Callaloo Soup:

Something along the lines of a diced up onion, minced garlic and ginger all sweated out. Finely shredded callaloo (a whole lot), cooked chickpeas, a jalapeno pepper, a diced red pepper, a pinch of smoked pimenton, a dash of cumin, black pepper, salt, chicken stock. Finished with a squeeze of lemon and some clams. Or something like that. (No Dave, I guess this means that I haven't yet put any useable recipes on my blog. At least not for someone like yourself who literally burns down the house every time you turn on your stove! Can I suggest induction? Or perhaps reservations would be the safer bet. HA!)

Ok, so bare with me. I am trying to improve my food photography and recipe writing skills, but that's multi-tasking and I'm sitll learning to walk and chew gum.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Virgin Territory

If you asked my bunkmate what I woke up thinking about this morning, or yesterday morning, or the morning before that, or before that, or before that the immediate, off-the-top-of –her-head response would be, “what she’s going to make for dessert”. Because, that is in fact what I wake up thinking about every morning.

At 6am I roll out of my 3 foot by 6 foot bunk, in our 5 foot by 6 foot cabin and take two sleepy steps into our 3 foot by 4 foot head (a.k.a. bathroom), stare into the 2 foot by 1 foot mirror, wipe sleep from my eyes, chase the cobwebs from my brain by splashing water on my face in the 3 inch by 5 inch bar sink with 2 inches of counter space, which ultimately leads to water running down the face of the cabinet and landing on my feet where I reach down to dry it up and connect with the pain in my back from trying to balance on such a tiny bunk, reach back up, put Tom’s of Maine Fennel flavored toothpaste on my toothbrush (come on, you think a chef is going to put just any flavor in their mouth?), count the days remaining until the guests leave the yacht, and wonder what the hell I’m going to make for dessert that day. That’s my pre-galley, morning routine when we’re on charter.

I don’t love dessert. I don’t have a sweet tooth which is why I’m a cook and not a baker. I hate making dessert. Desserts are moody, temperamental and fragile – not unlike my mood early in the morning, before my cup of tea (just ask my bunkmate) – add in the humidity of the Caribbean, and dessert can just be a downright pain.

I made baklava over the holidays, thought I’d introduce the crew and guests to a family tradition that I grew up with – something to remind me of home while I am away from home. Flaky leaves of filo pastry, layered with butter, spiced, ground nuts and orange-flower syrup – when made properly they are light and flaky with a juicy quality when you bite into them. They bring me back to my childhood – making baklava with my grandma and my cousins, rolling the nuts up like cigars in the butter-laden filo, all of us gathered around the chopping block island in my aunts avocado colored kitchen with the Harry and David “Pear” motif wallpaper, baking them and packing them up before we all piled into the shag carpeted Winnebago to go camping on the Oregon coast… But in the Caribbean heat and within hours my baklava “cigars” went irreversibly soggy and shriveled. They looked like an old mans, long, piano-playing fingers after sitting in a cold bathtub for a few hours… Yuk.

So, as my days usually go – around 2pm I think, “oh crap, what am I going to make for dessert tonight?” and I start searching through my cupboards to see what I have. The yacht owners aren’t big on chocolate – so I have the extra challenge of coming up with something suitable without taking the easy exit – because with chocolate, dessert is usually easy. Anyway, on this particular day I had thought I would conquer making ice-cream but after checking through my provisions (I was getting low on everything) I didn’t have enough eggs. I hadn’t made ice-cream before but I’d been thinking about it for weeks. I tend to procrastinate on trying new things, especially when I don’t have time or ingredients to spare for error… So, the ice-cream maker and I had a staring contest for a few weeks until finally said, “what the heck” and jumped, full fledge into the world of ice-cream making …

Time was ticking. I pulled out Grand Fanales: The Art of the Plated Dessert, and Secrets of Baking and started flipping through for ideas on what to make, but no inspiration for the time strapped, ingredient lacking cook was coming at me. Then, I looked in the cupboard – aha, coconut milk! Would coconut ice-cream (although technically a sorbet) require eggs? I searched for a recipe for coconut ice-cream and found one – coconut milk and simple syrup – and that was it. That was it? That was it.

I couldn’t be bothered reading the exact measurements. Who has time for that anyway? I knew that the sugar would be less pronounced as the coconut milk froze so I just dabbled until it tasted right which came out to something around 4 cups of coconut milk and a cup of ginger simple syrup and then I decided that I’d throw in about a cup of Angel Flake sweetened desiccated coconut to add some texture. I poured my concoction into the frozen ice-cream making bowl and paddle attachment for my Kitchen Aid mixer and voila, my love affair for homemade ice-cream sprang to life, and I’ve become completely addicted ever since.

To finish the dessert I made a tropical fruit salad with pineapple and mangoes on which I served the ice-cream and topped it with a pepita (green pumpkin seeds) and coconut (desiccated-unsweetened) brittle drizzled with dark chocolate. I had to fight the crew off but once the guests were served, the crew went to town and the coconut ice-cream went the way of the dinosaur.

My dad calls coconut ice-cream ‘crack’, because of his addiction to it. The owners and the crews reaction was similar. I just hope they don’t all get the shakes if I don’t make it again soon as I’m currently devising a Mexican chocolate ice-cream with cinnamon and chili powder, to go with Mexican night (and I’ve already made mango sorbet and strawberry ice-cream).

We’ve since made our way to St. Thomas and spent weeks cruising the British Virgin Islands. I didn’t realize that BVI is the acronym for “excessive partying” – or better yet, “Believe me, there is nothing Virgin about these Islands”, but you’d really have to visit to know what I mean (and more specifically, visit "Willy T's" on Norman Island; the Soggy Dollar Bar on Jost Van Dyke, or Bomba Shack for a full moon party on Tortola - the next one is Feb. 2nd)...

That's an affirmative, I do not like Jaeger Meister.

Sooner or later, when this hangover abates, I’ll be sure to do some catch-up writing on my recent foray into bread making…

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Skewterchef Strikes Back!

New Years Menu


Pancetta Wrapped Pan Seared Sea Scallops

Local Island Tatsoi Salad and Passion Fruit Vinaigrette


Indonesian Pumpkin and Crab Bisque

Shellfish-Pumpkin Broth, Coconut Milk, Lemon Grass

Indonesian Spices and Lump Crab

Sesame Tuille


Grilled Rack of Lamb

Shallot, Mustard and Rosemary Paste Marinade

Port Wine Sauce

Grilled Eggplant

Leek Tied Asparagus Bundles


Schaumtorte with Homemade Strawberry Ice-Cream

Fresh Berries and Whipped Cream

Perhaps taking a Vespa to the grocery store to provision a Mega Yacht is not the most efficient way to go or even the safest, especially on a Caribbean island where everyone drives at breakneck speeds on the wrong side of the road and your chances of getting run over by a wayward dollar bus or chased down by a pack of wild dogs are high– but hey, it certainly is the most fun and you only live once!

I sped down the highway – oh wait, are they called highways here? I’m really not even sure… Let me start again - I sped out of the Turtle Cove Marina on Provo in the Turks and Caicos Islands and headed over the dry, limestone and brush covered hills overlooking a vast expanse of turquoise blue ocean and white sandy beaches on my way to the IGA Supermarket with high hopes that they will have gotten their weekly delivery and the grocery selection might be decent enough to allow me to provision for the new guests arrival and for the new year – just a few, short days away…

With the sun on my back and a warm breeze across my face I roared up the road. Ok, perhaps “roared” and “sped” are slight exaggerations but I revved that little 49cc engine full-throttle. The posted speed limit was 20 mph, but the car behind me was right on my tail and a line was forming behind him – 25 mph, 28 mph, 30 mph… It was like ‘The Little Engine That Could’. “Come on little guy, come on, you can do it”, I whispered to the shiny, black LX (I really have to convince my boss to invest in the Malossi Kit). SPLAT, a giant Caribbean bug squashed across my aviator sunglasses. I laughed. But slow or not, I was riding a Vespa in Turks and Caicos and I do love riding so it was alright with me that the drivers behind had to wait a bit. Besides mon, we on island time now…

The guests were off of the yacht for the day and I convinced our captain (although not quite believing it myself as I told him) that it would be a piece of cake to fit all the groceries I needed onto the Vespa. Man, I just had to ride…

So, I went to the grocery store and they were well supplied with fresh produce, lucky me! The first thing I spotted was a giant pile of Boniata, a local sweet potato that a friend of mine from California told me that I had buy if I saw them – raving about how delicious they are. They were purply-red, lumpy and misshapen. Each Boniata weighed about 2 lbs., kind of a bulky item. No problem, I told myself, as I put three big ones in my basket and continued along. 18 lemons, 10 limes, two very large heads of bok choy, broccoli, tomatoes, boxes of salad greens, cans of coconut milk, a few dozen eggs. Very quickly my grocery basket began to fill up. I started to get nervous. I looked at my list; I’d only picked up three items off of it. That damn scooter, how was I possibly going to fit it all on? Well, I’d just have to make multiple trips – and hey, more time to ride the scooter, that works for me! I figured I’d quit shopping now and come back for my dry goods…

Two Asian men stared at me laughing as I pushed my cart FULL of groceries across the parking lot and over to the scooter. I smiled like it was a perfectly normal thing to do. There was absolutely no way all those groceries were going to fit and I knew it – but I had high hopes and what the hell else was I going to do but make it work? I stuffed the more resilient items in the helmet box and hung 7 bags from the hook under the seat. I had three bags left and I could not find any possible way of getting them on. A stunning Scandinavian woman pulled up next to me in an open jeep. Flowing blond hair, Prada sun glasses, legs that stretched on to forever and a Café Del Mar CD played on the stereo. I suddenly began to feel deeply insecure. It was as if I regressed into my teenage years – I became the awkward, geeky, tragically un-hip girl in middle-school with braces, head gear, frizzy hair and my brothers hand-me-down Tuff Skins on standing in the school yard trying to muster the energy to talk to the boy I had a crush on since third grade – when Pam Anderson suddenly walks up and plants a big, fat kiss on him. At warp speed my mind summed her up and started racking up a list; I’ll never have legs like that, a flat stomach like that, manicured nails, how will I ever get a date when there are girls that look like that in the world and how could I be so dumb to think provisioning on a Vespa was a good idea (somehow it was all tied together)? Etc., etc. I became acutely aware that the entire parking lot was staring at me as I had three lone bags in my hands and absolutely no place to put them. Little miss perfect stepped her long, spidery legs out of the jeep, her stringy, blond hair blowing in the wind and I thought, “well, maybe she’s really nice and she’ll offer to give me a lift back to the yacht.” No such luck, she threw me a glance that said, “You’re a retard”. I laughed out loud out of insecurity and my own foolishness and said, “perhaps I was overly ambitious”. A little voice suddenly popped into my head and said, “quit being a jackass Cristina, you’re not that insecure are you?” Like, no, duh. Just then I had an idea - I tied the grocery bags to the rack on the back of the scooter, tying extra-tight, triple knots in hopes that they would hold. Problem solved! Hey, in Vietnam they tie whole pigs onto their scooters and then load on the family dog, mom, dad, three children and half the extended family. If they could do it, I could do it. There was perhaps one small issue with leg room, but that was inconsequential. It took me a moment to gain my footing but I feigned confidence and with a thrust of the clutch I was off… The two Asian men that had laughed at me as I pushed my cart were now walking down the street by the grocery store. They turned and watched laughing hysterically as I sped passed them. They probably haven’t seen anyone work a scooter like that since they were back home (absolutely NO offence meant here)! I laughed too as I rode down the highway; sun shining down on my face. I gave myself a pat on the back and cruised down the highway singing, “Born To Be Wild” at the top of my lungs, white, plastic grocery bags with carrot tops and bok choy fluttering in the breeze. Two more trips to go, and I looked forward to them (and for the next one, I brought along my back pack). Now this is living!

And to meet the coolest people on the island of New York, and have a ball - get yourself a scooter and get on over to the Brass Monkey on Wednesday nights for a meetup and ride!

NY Scooter Club

This ones for my peeps in New York, hope it's not too cold to ride! :o)

Got a day off and headed to the beach!

The Christmas Ketchup...

Traditional Christmas Oyster Stew

Steak Tartar with Dijon, Capers, Shallots and Truffle Oil

White Asparagus Salad with Truffled Sheeps Cheese and an Aged Balsamic Vinaigrette

Fennel Crusted Black Bass with a White Wine Saffron Sauce

Grand Marnier Souffle with Grand Marnier Butterscotch Sauce and Chocolate Sauce

It’s been an exhausting month… After making our way down to Grand Exuma in the Bahamas, we were hit with a front of bad weather; rain and wind marring the guests itinerary for fishing and other off-the-boat activities. On December 23rd we made a hasty departure from Grand Exuma on less than 2 hours notice, to catch a weather window, and with guests aboard made the 24-hour run to Turks and Caicos. Otherwise, due to incoming bad weather, we wouldn’t be able to make it until New Years and we had more guests joining the yacht the day after Christmas in Turks and Caicos… We rushed to get the yacht packed for the passage – wrapping up vases and decorations, packing glasses and plates, checking portholes, etc. All of this, work enough without guests aboard, but now there were four! There wasn’t time to prepare any meals in advance, this meant I’d be cooking at sea – and with the wind at our nose, 7-foot seas, guests on board and my propensity for seasickness – something I was not looking forward to…

Steak Tartare

Emerald Bay in Grand Exuma is a tricky marina to enter and exit even in good sea conditions. It is a narrow, unmarked channel with a blind entrance, waves breaking across the channel pushing any entering or departing vessel straight into the reef. Our captain, an experienced delivery captain bringing yachts to locations around the world and having braved many a storm, was white knuckled at the helm as we entered the marina towing our 32-foot Boston Whaler, the crew positioned on the aft-deck, radios in hand giving the captain the grisly details of how close we were to hitting the all-too-short craggy, sea wall. Once inside, the marina was barren and desolate but for a few small sailboats and sport fishing vessels. A Greg Norman golf course and an endless expanse of construction for a new Four Seasons resort would be pretty in the right season, when the work on the marina was complete. But at this time, it looked like a post-modern utopia abandoned by its inhabitants forewarned of an alien invasion. But the golf course did make for a nice run; sit-ups and push-ups at the 14th hole against the backdrop of a tumultuous sea and foreboding skies…

Fennel Crusted Sea Bass

We set out of the marina in rough seas, the guests paying witness to the veracity of the life us crew live every day. Our mate drove the Whaler out of the marina rather than risking the harrowing passage with the whaler in tow and instead decided to tie the tow lines once we were outside the reef. This proved to be equally hazardous as the crew were practically washed off of the transom trying to tie up the Whaler, and the anchor smacked into the yacht before we could push the tied up Whaler back… We (the crew, not the guests) kept watch in 2-person, 4-hour shifts and since we are only a 4 person crew, this meant sleeping in shifts of 4 hours. The seas were rough; the guests were seasick and decided to camp out on the settee in the pilot house and main salon.

After the Whaler was secured and we were underway, I made myself comfortable on the settee in the galley and as seasickness set in contemplated my current situation wondering what “simple” thing I could throw together for the guests to eat. Of course, nothing about cooking at sea is ever simple. The captain suggested lasagna. This meant making a sauce – not going to happen. Stir fry? That would mean making rice – not going to happen. Everything I thought of cooking would require boiling something. I sat in the galley; knackered from a month without a day off, a tiring watch ahead of me, scratching my brain and wondering what I could possibly prepare for dinner that would be easy to cook, and easy to eat, in high seas. Fortunately, the guests turned out to be too seasick to eat so it was frozen pizzas for the crew, saltines and ginger ale for me.

Grand Marnier Souffle

We arrived in Providenciales (Provo), Turks and Caicos at 8 a.m. Christmas Eve. And, of course, the first sign of the passing of seasickness is that the appetite comes back with a vengeance - and so it was, with the guests and crew. After unpacking the galley and getting it back into (somewhat) working order, I busted out breaky for guests and crew. The crew set to doing an exterior wash-down which would take the better part of the day and after breakfast I immediately set into prepping for a 5-course Christmas Eve Dinner – a day behind on my prep list…

(More updates and pictures coming soon - our bandwidth is too low to upload! AGGGGggggg... and, I'm just plumb exhausted...)

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