As some may know first hand and others read about, I have spent the last few months cruising around on weekends with a compliment of crew that varied in sailing experience as well as dietary habits. To date, most of the trips have been devoid of any real culinary issues and I'd like to share what I have learned and pass along some thoughts on entertaining - especially to larger groups.
Know thyself skipper:
cooking style. Even though I have two BBQs on the stern, rarely do I use them as I hate clamoring over the cockpit to cook. It was a necessity to cook as such on the Catalina (which had no functioning galley forced all meals to be cooked on the grills). On the larger boat I find that preparing and cooking in the galley is easier and allows for more creativity. For me my cooking style is best suited for the galley and using the grill for actual grillable items (and assigning someone else to manage that aspect).
Usually, you'll have one or two guests that like to assist. If you are the type that doesn't enjoy the sharing of the kitchen - again know your style - but adapt. You can make those particular guests comfortable and useful by having them do prep work (such as cutting up veggies, setting out dishes, etc). Additionally, you can make the whole cooking experience enjoyable by explaining how and why you do something.
Prepping the Boat for Dining.
I'll probably catch some slack on this one, but I truly believe that PRESENTATION is just as important as the taste of the meals - don't scrimp on the dinnerware. Two common issues that always pop are:
of dishware is the major concern because - well - its a sailboat, and its a jungle out on the water at times. This can be addressed by creative use of cardboard, tissue paper, and cloth napkins. On "Hello Gorgeous" we have actually 10 place settings on board, all ceramic - for serving dinner (plates, bowls, coffee cups, actual wine glasses, silverware). This is accomplished by making sure that everything is cushioned and that when a cabinet is opened nothing can just fall out and nothing can rattle inside the cabinets.
[Example of the dishware from Pier 1, we have onboard, instead of the bowls and coffee cups, we use the large plate and the deep dish plate as a bowl - as it stores more efficiently in smaller cabinet space. Consider also sushi style square plates for even more efficient storage.]
is sometimes the issue on smaller boats, but even on the Catalina 27, there was room that could be made. Locate and dedicate storage areas that are assigned to nothing but dishware. On "Hello Gorgeous", we use four saloon cabinets for nothing but dishware. Because these cabinets are not square on the inside, use the smaller spaces in cabinets for glassware, then bowls, and the largest for plates.
Instead of placing forks, knives and spoons into a drawer, use paper cups that they all can be separated into. These can also act as cushions between sets of bowls and plates, and to prevent rattling - a paper towel or cloth napkin can be wrapped over them.
If you do not have cabinet space - utilize the storage under the saloon seats, and use boxes to store these items or bubble wrap. For plates, use of cardboard or tissue paper, between the plates (and they can be set in the cabinets edges up at a slight slant) will prevent damage from hard rolls. For glasses, tissue paper or cloth napkins can be used to wrap inside the glass and outside the glass - not much is actually needed. If space permits then store them lip face down - if not then place them sideways with opposite ends staggering so you can utilize the space above them to store more.
The overall key is to maximize the amount of space you use - as wasted space is just that. I tend to stay away from fixed storage designs as you want the flexibility to adapt to different dishware sizes etc.
Why not paper plates, plastics, etc? Personally, that is called camping. It takes up more room overall when you actually think about it, and you'll end up spending more monies in the long run. For example a pack of sturdy paper plates for $4.99 X 12 weekends is $59 and you can buy actual plates for $2.99 on clearance. True it saves on cleanup - but those paper plates and plastic silverware and cups have to go somewhere and trash space is at a premium. Trash always takes up more space in the long run and while disposables trumps over a little hand washing - dedicated space and never worrying about if you have it wins in my book.
Equipping the Galley:
Unless your style is "I just grill", your galley should be stocked with great cookware. Personally, I have nothing but Calphadon onboard for a few reasons:
1. Easy cleanup.
2. Faster cooking times which reduces strain on the propane system.
3. If you are multi-tasking with one burner - they retain heat awesomely. This means you can get a dish to temp and move it off the burner to a wooden cutting block (say on the nav station or saloon table) and continue cooking another part of the meal. I use this technique all the time and rotate the food being cooked accordingly.
4. They are heavier than the stainless counterparts and stay pretty set on a gimballed stove even without use of stove braces to keep them in place in seas with chop 2 feet or less.
Chef style cookware also means you can limit the types of cookware you have onboard based on your cooking specialty. If you are the type that prefers both skillet and broth based types of food - you can replace a skillet and pot with a wok style fryer for instance.
Lastly, it makes an impression - and the cookware is the first thing everyone sees. As, stated with the dishware section - assign storage areas and use proper padding. I find wrapping glass lids in plastic works well, and with some attention to detail most pots and pans can be stored stacked with great versatility. Utilize the stove's oven for storing skillets if you have one - it's gimballed and not likely they will run amuck while underway.
Same goes with your cutlery and other kitchen wares. I use a cylinder container to store them as they can be wrapped up in a kitchen towel, this storage medium takes up less space than storing in a drawer, and can be placed on a workspace for easy access and again stowed for sea at a moments whim.
[Spices, and eats]
Less presentation, what you have onboard in terms of cooking is the difference between a camping meal and a gourmet meal. I won't address the storage of fresh goods in detail - as the weekend cruiser usually devours those in the weekend to begin with. Instead, I invite you to investigate investing in dried spices.
Dried spices take up very little room, and can be either in plastic or glass containers or stored in ziplock bags. Preferably any spices you have that tend to absorb moisture should also be stored in a ziplock bag. Spices that come with the twist and grind are awesome additions to the galley as they tend to keep moisture out when stored for long periods of time.
Spices I recommend:
Parsley, Thyme, Rosemary, Mixed Peppercorns, Sea Salt, Cummin, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Oregano, Garlic salt, Paprika, Italian Seasoning, Ginger, and Dried Mustard to name a few. Basil leaves, and other dried spices should also be considered. Consider also dried mangos, dates, and other dried fruits as they do not require refrigeration and when cooked become almost as juicy as real fruit.
Tricks to spices. Hardcore gourmet chefs swear by fresh ingredients, but cooler space is at premium. The trick to getting the flavor out of dried spices is to first place the amount in your hand and rub the spice between your fingers. The oils in your fingers along with the rubbing of the spices will break out the flavor. If using the spices in a broth I usually skip that step and if seasoning meats I first put a little olive oil on the meat, sprinkle the spices on, then rub it in. Try not to use butter as a substitute for olive oil and instead use olive oil for butter - its better for you and the spices will come out more flavorful (IMHO).
Pastas and Rice:
You can never go wrong with either, and instant rice cooks just as fast as pasta if not faster. Both are easy to store - and in a pinch - Ramon noodles. Both allow a nice base to work off of and most people can eat either or both.
I typically have a slew of canned goods but so far I have found that the only ones i use are tomato sauces. Perhaps that is the italian in me - but works well for seasoning, broths, and even glazing. Soups are a great addition for cooking as well.
Storage of Fresh Food and Drinkage:
Even with cooler spaces, unless you have some kind of refrigeration - it is a pain to keep drinks and food separated and cooled efficiently. On "Hello Gorgeous" we have two large coolers, and two portable Waeco refrigeration units onboard.
Assign where the food and drinks go. We have one cooler that is dedicated to nothing but adult beverages. The other cooler is for pops, cokes, water, and food (less meats) that can tolerate a bit of a slight chill. From my experience it takes less ice to keep cool the carbonated beverages than it does beer (especially if in bottles).
We use the two Waeco units (pictured here):
For freezing and deep chill of meats, vegetables, and dairy products. These units are both AC/DC powered and quickly get down to temp with very low draw on the battery system. Typically we can store enough food for 8-12 people for a weekend using these - in conjunction with the ice box coolers.
For the Wine Lovers:
I have a rule on "Hello Gorgeous" - do not drink wine from plastic. Simple truth is - drinking wine (and I prefer the $6 variety) - I consider more of a "event of pleasure" no matter how cheap the wine is. Glass / Crystal wine glasses give the guests a more at home experience. Granted we have broken quite a few while enjoying wine when docked - but for $2-5 for a decent reasonable glass - easily replaceable.
Tips to Buying:
Don't buy a whole set. Usually, these sets are overpriced and they are made out of cheaper glass. Additionally, mix and match brands, shapes and colors. This allows guests to never ask - which one is mine - if you are entertaining your own guests or those whom come visit you from other boats. We have two of 6 different varieties on board for example and the carrying of different sizes also allow for more flexibility when stowing - as the taller ones can be up front and smaller ones rolled in behind them when stowing.
Do the ping test. How sturdy a glass is relative to the sharpness of the ting when you flick your finger against the glass. The more resonating the ping is the sturdier it is. The sturdier it is means when it breaks it will usually be at the stem and that means less cleanup when one does break.
These will shatter at the rim when felled or stepped on - although add a bit of elegance to any dining / social scenario.
These are much thicker and to date - all have been broken at the stem when a mishap occurred.
Consider stemless - even wine snobs will drink out of a stemless. After all it is still better than plastic and they are admittedly easier to stow and less likely to break. If break ability is a major concern - there are the poly glasses you can buy.
Cooking and Serving:
If you love to cook, you have already encountered the limitations of cooking onboard. In the previous subject matter, I have outlined the outfitting of a boat for entertaining, but it should be addressed how to actually handle prep - serving.
The most crucial consideration you have to make is - just how far to go. A gourmet style meal can be had in 20 minutes or less if you really keep it simple and instead concentrate on a theme or one or two exotic ingredients.
If you are the type that has to be picture perfect - consider prepping and cooking the more elaborate or time consuming portions before heading out for the weekend. Especially if you have refrigeration onboard and instead of those plastic containers - use ziplock bags to bring and stow on the boat.
Focus on a plan. Prep first - meaning get all the vegetables sliced and diced, and spices out ready to go. Have a spare wooden cooking board ready to move pans that are hot so that can stay warm and out of the way in a limited galley space. I'll usually use the Nav station table or the center of the saloon table until all food is cooked as I'll only use one burner to cook an entire meal.
Meats take longer to cook than most other items, so should be started first. Exception - seafood, should always usually be cooked last (even before doing the pasta or rice.
Presentation is everything - but you do not have to have 4 seperate dishes out to serve everything. IE: No need for a salad plate, soup bowl, and all that jazz. Your choice of foods should reflect a theme and the presentation you decide on should be more focused on layers and color than just lumping them down.
Start with the dressing of the plate.
I tend to use stuff like salads to rim the edges of a plate, partially or all the way. If salad is not being served - use of honey, chocolate, or guacomolee to do the edges is a great presentation.
Next start with a side dish or the main substance layer (pasta, rice etc) - while you are serving - talk about what it is you are serving (even if you have to make it up a little) - it's one of those talents you can learn from watching cooking shows. This is probably the best tip as it keeps the guests entertained and you look like a real pro even if you are a wanna be gourmet.
Serve the food in such a way the plate looks interesting by grouping, overlaying, or layering. It prolongs the anticipation a bit as you go back and forth to the galley to retrieve the next item and the aromas get the guests ready to eat. One technique I use is preparing one plate and repeating that prep for each guest as it looks as if I am tailoring to each guest individually.
Last thing you should do is make sure everyone has the beverage of choice.
Sample Recipe from "Hello Gorgeous":
Cherry / Mango'ed Fish:
In a frying pan
1. Squibble of Olive oil in bottom of pan - just enough to almost cover half the pan.
2. Pinch of salt, ground pepper
3. Bring to a slight simmer and add in a dash of dried cherries and 1 and a half times the number of servings to prepare - slices of dried mango.
4. Add in a healthy squirt of either wine or beer, or orange juice if you have any available. This will hydrate the dried cherries and mangos as they simmer making them moist and cuttable by a fork.
5. After 5-7 minutes take the fish you want to prepare (here in Seattle I use salmon or halibut) and rub Djion mustard over the fleshy side, add a pinch of salt and pepper and place in saucer pan over the mango. Fish should be placed skin side down in the saucepan - place lid over and kick up the heat a smidgen.
Add healthy dash of cinnamon, a healthy sprinkling of paprika, along with either dried or fresh oregano (fresh is better obviously), and thyme (thyme sparingly), and if you have it some mint (if not no big deal)...over the entire saucepan.
6. Add another squirt or two of the item you selected in number 4. This is to make sure we steam the fish. When sauce in bottom comes to a boil turn off heat and let sit for 5-7 minutes.
Pasta - fettuccine is recommended but rice can be used as well. In both cases, when boiling the water add in chopped mushrooms, onions, and a sliver or two of the mango that still should be left over. Season with Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper. Drain when cooked.
- Rim plate with chocolate or honey in a random pattern.
- Add a healthy portion of salad to the center of the plate but put the majority on the edges not the the center.
- Add the fettuccine - noting to the guests the ingredients you used.
- Next add the main course, the fish - already sliced. The mango cherry sauce will be at the bottom of the skillet and this is what you top the fish with (the slices of mango) allowing the sauce to dribble over to the edges of where the salad. Note to the guests the ingredients as you are serving and note the mango, cherries and cinnamon (which is used to counter the sweetness and give it a more roasty flavor as some will have went into the sauce as well)...heck make up a story that this is an old italian recipe that your grandmother gave you when she lived in Sicily
Sounds funky, but awesome eats...
My intent is to demonstrate that even on a modest budget and with limited space - anyone can entertain, and transform what otherwise could be a camping meal to a more gourmet style experience using simple ingredients and simple techniques. If desired I can share some of the other recipes and tips I have as regularly I have guests bring a secret ingredient(s) that I have to whip up a meal with.
I am not a chef, no formal training, I consider myself more of the redneck gourmet - as I do not measure and just cook with whatever I happen to have...it goes with the more creative side of playing around with food in general....I have though been called by most of the guests the "Iron Chef" because I just whip this stuff up - and the presentation techniques really add to the dining experience...