Tuesday, 31 May 2011

One Regatta Down, Seven To Go!

Beautiful Corsica

I’m writing this blog sitting in the staysail that’s tied down to the deck on the bow as we motor away from Ajaccio, Corsica and head for Antibes. The sea is flat calm and the sun is being kind to us behind a thin, lacy vale of cloud. It’s a good spot to ponder our first regatta and to start telling you all about it. I’m a bit uncertain as to how I should summarise a whole regatta without boring you to tears with too much detail. I’m struggling to even know where to start to be completely honest.

Moored up in Ajaccio in the morning sun.
One certainty is that quite a lot of emotion goes into racing in a regatta. Times that by the number of crew onboard, mix it up with some VIP’s staying, 3 course meals, late nights, heavy fog and a Man-Over-Board and the material is endless. I’ll keep it to the point and keep the deviations to a minimum if I can.

So here goes, deep breath and…

Nine folk arrived to help us sail the boat for the regatta in Ajaccio, including my Dad who came to do the navigation. That was great, having my Dad with us. I was very proud. Not that I saw much of him. My position on the boat means that I’m pulling on ropes forward and he was down in the lazerette with the charts on the aft deck. We occasionally waved to each other when time allowed. 

All hands to the peak halyard.

Perfect spooning on the rail guys.

The racing had its ups and its downs. The first race was a short one and although we were first boat to the second mark, we struggled with the downwind leg and I think we might have come last in our class. The second day was weird. We had just started to hoist the sails for the day when the fog set in. According to a local guy I spoke to, this fog comes but once a year, and it chose a race day, of all days. 15 classic yachts floated around the bay of Ajaccio for a few hours without being able to see much past their bow sprits. We had Natty on the bow with the fog horn and Joe the engineer up the mast, standing on the spreaders. It was all a bit spooky and incredibly disorientating. I was glad my Dad was on the navigation knowing where we were and where the big ships were. He’s a bit clever my Dad.

Beating up to the mark

The final race was our best of all. We were leading the fleet which is always exciting with some great beating up to the first mark. In fact the other boats, smaller and lighter than us were really falling behind. And then just as we were getting ready for a tack, we heard those awful words;

‘Man Over Board’!

With a new safety procedure and focus, last year we didn’t have one man-over-board. However in 2008 there were 4 in total. There is no guard rail in place when we race and the risk of being washed down the leward deck by the sea is pretty high. We do wear safety harnesses and clip on when the wind is strong and the leward deck is getting wet which stopped me from going over last year in a big gush of wave in Falmouth. This time however, Nikki lost her footing and because she stands very close to the back of the boat, she went in head first, a line around her ankle. Thank God it slipped off quickly or she would have been dragged along behind the boat at 7 knots.

It is a horrible moment when you hear those words. Everyone on the boat is a great friend as well as a colleague and keeping your cool when you know someone has gone overboard is tough. Jim, our captain, called quickly for a gybe, a life ring was thrown and George called for focus and everybody to their positions. We gibed around, had someone watching Nikki and pointing the whole time, a line was prepared and she was picked up in 4 minutes and 36 seconds. She has a few bruises but really the only injury was that her brand new camera was still in her pocket.

And off we set again to finish our race. Smooth.

It took just a little bit of coaxing and great boat handling to get Mariquita going again but the sailing yacht Mariska, managed to pass us. However, we had such a great lead on the other boats that we were next over the finishing line. It was a fantastic race and we are very proud of our Man/Girl/Person-Over-Board recovery and staunch race focus with Nikki back on board. Well done us.

Now if you think that once a year, thick Fog and Person-over-boards were a bit scary, let me tell you all about the sandwiches.

How hard is it to make a sandwich? you may ask. I’m giggling now as I remember, but have to admit that it wasn’t very funny at the time. It was decided that because we had 3 VIP’s staying on board, that I would be too busy to make all the race sandwiches, which is very true. So to relieve the pressure a bit, we ordered and had sandwiches delivered everyday. Great!

Actually not great. Let me give you a little list of some of the fillings provided;

  • Grated carrot and anchovy (yum!)
  • Sliced egg and crab stick (delicious)
  • Some sort of spam and oceans of hot mustard (Can’t believe I hadn’t thought of that one before)
And my favourite,
  • Lettuce and tomato (Genius)

So, most mornings were spent repairing the sandwiches with Sian, which wasn’t really the point at all. Oh, how we laughed…

I cooked a few VIP meals and did a couple of canapé evenings with Sian, my hard-working stewardess. One meal was asparagus and parmesan stuffed, boned chicken supreme’s, griddled baby courgettes and mint, followed by mini summer puddings served with crème fraiche, a selection of Corsican cheeses and Corsican rose wine. Unfortunately my camera’s battery-life expired that night, so you’ll just have to believe me.

I hear the entertainment for the boats and crews was great on the dock in the evenings. But if you are chef or stewardess on any boat with guests and owners then you don’t often get to partake in much of that. We are the first ones up and the last to bed. Add a little yacht race into the day and bed is the most wonderful place on earth for the short time we’re in it.

I would like to take this opportunity though to urge you whole heartedly to visit Corsica. It is the most beautiful country with a very interesting history and great character. It is famous for its superb hikes and walks, waterfalls and mountains. Jim, Tim, George and I went for a hike one day before the regatta. We caught the bus to Vizzavona and from there we followed the Cascades des Anglais which took us through beautiful woods, past waterfalls and deep icy pools which you can swim in if you’re brave, or silly enough to. We ended up being very silly and jumping in a deep pool of melted-snow water. It takes your breath away but after you have scrabbled out in what is usually a fairly undignified manner, the feeling of elation is palpable. You feel incredibly healthy and alive. You just have to go for it, don’t think about it, just jump right in. The sun soon warms you up and then if you have been really clever, like us, you then truly deserve your rose picnic. Especially if you have been chilling the rose in the icy cold water whilst you were busy frolicking about in it.I guess it is times like these when life at 33 Degrees is a wonderful thing. I am incredibly lucky.

So do accept my apologies for not writing sooner. It’s been quite a week. I hope I’ve done it justice without boring you to tears. There is so much more to write but considering this was our first regatta of the season, I’m pretty sure there’ll be more stories to tell very soon in Antibes. We don’t want to over-do it so early on now do we?

Thanks for sticking with me and making it to the end. When I write again soon, I’m hoping it will be all about the fish we’re about to catch as we head across the sea to Antibes in France. Fingers and chop sticks crossed. Ginger and wasabi on the ready.

Oh and camera battery charged this time.

One regatta down and seven to go. I'm sure once I've caught up on my sleep I'll be raring to go for 'Les Voiles d'Antibes on the 8th. For the moment, I'm enjoying lying in the staysail on the bow in the setting sun with some great memories already. And we've only just started. It's going to be a great year. Hope you can join me.
Cheers! See you soon.

Monday, 23 May 2011

First Season's Garlic. First Season's Racing.

I’ve got a mate, Paul, who’s allergic to garlic. Can you imagine?  When he comes over for dinner when I’m at home, I have to remove all garlic and garlic products from the house because a large proportion of food I cook and eat has garlic involved. I have to really concentrate very hard not to use it.

You wouldn’t like this one then Paul, sorry. I’d like to say you’re not missing anything but that would be a huge lie.  All the more for us.

I picked up some wet garlic from the little market in Ajaccio, the town in Corsica where we’re moored up awaiting our first regatta of the season. I originally purchased just the one bulb and took it back to the boat with huge pride and excitement. My fellow crew members weren’t quite as excited as me though and I wasn’t exactly sure how I was going to best make use of my little gem of loveliness. Wet garlic is fresh, new season garlic and is available in late spring. It doesn’t take long for it to begin to dry and take on the papery skin of the regular garlic you get in the super market. But it is sweeter and very mellow flavoured without the potential acridness of regular garlic that can linger in your mouth and ruin an otherwise perfectly good date.

In the end I decided that the best way to enjoy the rare opportunity to eat wet garlic was to eat a lot of it. And we did. I went back to the market the next morning and bought more bulbs to roast whole; drizzled with olive oil, some of what’s left of my rather depleted lemon-thyme, lemon zest, salt and pepper. A little squeeze of lemon juice later and in to the oven they popped. I can’t type this fast enough, I’m so excited to tell you about it.

So in addition to buying extra garlic at the market I also bought some Corsican goats cheese. It was recommended to me by the chap selling the cheese after telling him what I was serving it with. I felt pretty proud explaining about the imminent roasting of garlic despite my very poor attempt to speak French to him. Of course he spoke almost fluent English back to me which say’s a lot about my French. (Must try harder)

However his choice of Corsican goat’s cheese for my menu was spot on. The crew gathered in the forepeak and we pretty quickly managed to ‘mmm’ and ‘oh’ our way through 3 large bulbs of roasted garlic with lemon thyme, served with Corsican goats cheese and a drizzle of honey on warm, brown, crusty bread. Obviously we ate this with some very nice Corsican red wine. And some beers and some rose. Well, one really must try the local cuisine when one is abroad mustn’t one?

The crew loved it so much I think I may have to repeat the experience several times whilst we’re here. The garlic was so soft and mellow that one or two of the guys were convinced they could go out afterwards in the hope of meeting some Corsican girls and not worry about garlic breath. I’m not sure anybody got lucky last night but I do know it was nothing to do with the garlic.

Give it a go! (Wet garlic that is; not trying to get lucky with Corsican girls) You’ll probably find wet garlic at farm shops and farmers markets in the UK. Or start growing your own! One day, when I have my very own garden…

Guess that finished then.

See you soon, and Thanks for reading!

Friday, 20 May 2011

Cooking Frittata In Corsica.

We’re here and it’s good. Mind you my scope off the boat so far has been to the market and to the shore-side accommodation, which is about 100 yards further than the market. However, my trip to the market this morning was very successful as you shall see and I am lucky enough to have a room/sofa bed at the crew-side apartment for the next few days. So all in all, I’m very happy to be here so far in Ajaccio.

Our trip from Nice was un-eventful, which is great apart from the absence of fish. Just the one is all I hope for considering the lack of room I have in my freezer, however this trip we caught nothing and my nori, sushi rice and rolling mat are back in storage.

The weather is beautiful and this morning I made an early trip to the market to get supplies for a day at anchor. Jim, our captain and George, 1st Mate and my Fella, had the task of cleaning the hull today in preparation for the regatta, fast approaching. So dive equipment was hired for the day and the sound of bubbles emanated from underfoot as Sian and I cleaned and polished down below, which is always strangely pleasing.

I literally had to cross the road from the port and there was the market, small but perfectly formed. It had everything I required for lunch and some extra stalls for interest. Corsicans do charcuterie. And they do it very well as you can see.

We’ll have plenty of time for that. Today I bought the usual baguettes, two very pert, fresh lettuces and a big, fat bulb of wet garlic which fills me with great excitement. Wet garlic is fresh, seasonal garlic pulled from the ground and not yet dried. It is sweet and a much better flavour than the everyday, supermarket version. It is the joy of garlic without the potential bitterness. I shall definitely come up with a suitable recipe that will do it justice for you. For today though I’m blogging lunch. A leek, tarragon and feta frittata.

Frittata or Spanish omelette was definitely not a favourite of mine for quite some time. I had a job as a stewardess on a boat when I was about 22 years old and the chef used to make a frittata about twice a week for the crew lunch. I couldn’t bare it and that really doesn’t happen to me all that often. As far as I was concerned, it was over-cooked, stiff egg with onions and peppers. There’s something not quite right about stiff egg. And of course, when I finally agreed to eat some at a small tapas bar in Spain, I realised how a frittata was supposed to taste. A frittata should be slice-able and yet be able to retain its ‘creaminess’.  It should be able to sit unsupported and yet have a softness about its flavour and texture.

This is a great lunchtime dish for any time of year if you change the filling with the seasons. And a great crew lunch being easy, vegetarian and budget friendly. I made 2 frittatas for 12 people using 16 eggs but if you want to halve this then I would be tempted to keep the same amounts for the filling ingredients and cut the eggs down to 6-7.

My ‘thing’ with cooking frittata is to do it gently and please do not over cook it! It does not need to be solid.  Let’s crack on. (Little egg joke there)

You will need;

16 eggs, beaten and seasoned with salt and pepper
2 medium sized potatoes, sliced, not peeled
4 leeks washed and sliced, the white and light green parts only              
1 tsp sugar
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 courgettes, 1 sliced, 1 roughly chopped quite small
1 bunch of fresh tarragon, stalks removed, half chopped fairly fine
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 pack of feta or goat’s cheese according to taste and mood and what’s in the fridge
Small pot of crème fraiche
Parmesan cheese


  • Begin by putting the sliced potatoes into a pan of salted water and bringing to the boil. You want them to be almost cooked through but with a bit of bite left. Drain and set aside.

  • Whilst the potatoes are cooking sauté the leeks in a non-stick frying pan in some sunflower oil and a small knob of butter. Season with salt and the tsp of sugar. Let this slowly sauté until soft for about 10 minutes. Add the fennel seeds and the half of chopped tarragon and continue sautéing for another 5 minutes.

  • In another pan, fry the sliced courgettes in a little oil on a high heat till they have browned on both sides. This helps get rid of some of their water which means you won’t have a soggy frittata. When the sliced ones are done then do the same with the roughly chopped courgettes, when these have had a good sauté and are slightly coloured, add to the leeks and stir to combine.
  • Bung the potatoes in to the pan with the leeks and courgettes making sure they are spread about evenly. Crumble the feta or goats cheese over the leek mixture and then using a teaspoon dollop the crème fraiche in amongst the feta cheese in little - well, dollops.

  • With the pan now on a gentle heat, pour in the beaten eggs and using a fork, encourage the egg to nestle down amongst the leek mixture to get to the bottom of the pan and to distribute well amongst the mixture. This also helps to mix the crème fraiche with the egg a bit more.

  • Lay the sliced courgettes over the top with the remaining fresh tarragon leaves and a good sprinkling of parmesan.

  • Now let this sit quietly on a very low heat for about 10-12 minutes. When you can see that the egg at the edges are cooking and it may look like it’s rising slightly then this is when to take it off the heat and stick it under a hot grill. Keep an eye on it and take it out when it is nicely browned on top. If you think that the egg in the middle might still be too soft then put it back onto a gentle heat on the hob for another 5-6 minutes. Otherwise let it sit and rest in the pan and cool down a little to ‘set’.

  • When it has had 10 minutes to rest, turn it out onto a serving dish and slice. I turn mine out upside-down onto a chopping board, then put a plate over the frittata and turn the whole thing over so the top is at the top again…follow?

You can add bacon to this or serve with smoked salmon and salad. Up to you, but also you can adapt the fillings to what’s in season and what you have in the fridge. A plain potato, onion and cheddar cheese frittata is a very soothing, comfort dish and served with bacon and toast makes a great breakfast.

The crew on Mariquita are preparing for our first regatta which starts next week. We have guests staying onboard so she is looking very beautiful down below and the deck crew have scrubbed decks and polished the hull. She looks beautiful. She looks fast.

More classic yachts are arriving and it’s great to meet other crews and old friends from the circuit. The marquees are going up and Ajaccio is preparing for a great week of sailing and party throwing. So you’re all invited to join in! I’ll keep you updated and boy have you got a treat in store in my next blog…

See you then, Thanks for reading. Cheers!

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Stepping Aside In The Galley

If you’re a foodie like me then you’ll understand when I say that I feel like I know Nice now. I had a great restaurant experience last night and now I feel like I have thoroughly explored this city.  I feel I know every nook and cranny; I’ve had a ‘connection’. Me and Nice, we’re like ‘that’.                     

A friend who lives here took us to this great little Italian restaurant just near to where he lives. Gepetto, a relaxed, casual and full little restaurant. The chef Alex, likes to meet and greet and check in with his diners and I can’t imagine he get’s anything other than full-mouthed, nodding grins.  And, as well as the fact that the food was great, the prices were great too. Delicious.
I couldn’t help but order the same as George. It was a dish of scallops and home-made asparagus and herb-filled tortellini. And it was good. Nothing too fancy or complicated, just delicious, the Italian way.

My Grand Marnier crème brulee, was to die for. George argued that actually his nougat with orange caramel was to die for. We try not to air our ‘domestics’ in public so we quietly agreed to compromise. And agree that I was right. He is so lovely.                                                                                 

So now I feel happy to leave Nice. I came, I conquered and I went to Gepetto. Next stop, Ajaccio.

So before I head off across the Mediterranean sea in search of new pastures, I would like to share with you, ‘Billy Butlers Breakfast Muffin’. He’s very proud of it and I am not surprised. He has been perfecting this one for a while and generously agreed to share it with you. (after I generously agreed to let him loose in my galley…)

Please, put your hands together and give a big warm welcome to Mariquita’s main-sheet-man and deck-hand extraordinaire, Mr Billy Butler!

You will need;
2 eggs, beaten in a wide shallow bowl
1 wholemeal muffin      
2 slices of bacon
Cheese of your choice, today Billy opted for Roquefort, interesting.
1 dollop of Ketchup
1 mug of Coffee


  • Begin by heating up a non-stick pan with a little sunflower oil. Whilst the pan is heating lightly toast your muffin. Apparently this stops any unwanted ‘sogginess’.  See, perfection.

  • Once the pan is heated add the bacon. Put the lightly toasted muffin into the beaten egg to absorb the egg for a few moments. Then add the ‘eggy’ muffin to the pan with the bacon.                            
  • After a few minutes pour the remaining beaten egg into a spare corner of the pan to fry. This will be added to your sandwich as extra 'egginess'.                                                                        

    • When the egg has cooked on one side flip with a rubber spatula to finish. Turn the bacon too                                                      .                

    • Whilst the egg ‘wedge’ is cooking with the bacon, turn the muffins over. You can now add the cheese onto one of the muffin halves. Let the cheese melt a bit and you can now start to assemble your breakfast muffin. Excited? Me too.

    • Place the cheese topped muffin half onto a plate. Gently pile the bacon over the cheese then gather the wedge of cooked egg and with care, sit this on the bacon. Top with the final eggy muffin half and Billy recommends gently squeezing down on it with the spatula to ‘seal’ the deal.

    • Drizzle a chosen spot on your serving dish lightly with a dollop of ketchup. Serve with a mug of coffee with frothy milk.
      Now, having watched and photographed this recipe being cooked I can tell you that it was performed with love, skill and many little perfections. Billy has definitely made this before and you can tell he has skills he picked up whilst working at MacDonald’s in his younger days (he’s a wise and worldly 23 year old now).

    Bless him.

    Now if Billy can do it, I’m sure you can (!) Feel free to send in your ‘perfected’ recipes. Tweaks and all. Of course you can keep any secrets, I understand. You don’t have to give it all away. But if you like, I’ll try your recipes out on my crew and let you know what they thought. And I will give you full credit right here on my blog or Facebook page, 33 Degrees.

    Now before I sign off, I will just tell you to click on the Facebook link to the right of this blog. There is a small video of Mariquita adventure snipets from last year you might like to watch at the top of the Facebook page. I was the one holding the camera for 'the wave'. Jim was pretty calm and I just about managed to hold on and film it (sort of).

    Sorry Ma. I'm fine!

    I'm sure our trip to Corsica will be much calmer. I hope. I'll let you know all about it when we arrive. See you then and there. And thanks alot for reading.

    Bon Voyage!

    Sunday, 15 May 2011

    A Cacciatore Made for Sea

    View from Nice into Villefranche-Sur-Mer

    Everyone has ‘their’ dish don’t they?  The dish you have made way more than a few times, perfected and almost claimed as your own. Well mine is my version of the classic chicken cacciatore. I’m almost positive I invented it. I’m not Italian though my Brother-In-Law, the Sommelier, Bil, is Sardinian and once at a party I think I drank my own body weight in Prosecco.

    Does that count?

    Chicken cacciatore is up there on the Dessert Island Dish list for me with the meatballs. (See, I must be Italian). And once again it is a delicious tomato sauce, slow cooked with beautiful plump chicken thighs, rosemary, moorish black olives all simmering together slowly with a lot of red wine and then served on a perfectly cooked bed of tagliatelle, drizzled with lots of fresh olive oil. Its meaty, it’s rich, it is so deep.

    I can get carried away.

    It’s all about the slow cooking for me. A dish along these lines can taste one way after an hour of cooking but with exactly the same ingredients and given 2 more gentle hours on the hob, can taste entirely different. It’s a bit like going from economy to first class on an aeroplane (that’s never happened to me actually), like going from flip flops to Jimmy Choos. (This isn’t working for me) I’ll just say it’s another level of good; it’s perfection.

    I’m cooking chicken cacciatore in advance for a delivery meal. We leave on Monday for Corsica. It can be gently re-heated and simmering away in one big pot on the gimbaled hob of my boat cooker whilst we sail the high seas. All I have to do when it’s time is to make a big pan of pasta, a big crunchy green salad with parmesan shavings and I’m pretty sure the crew will be happy. It’s a meal that can be made, re-heated and always ends up tasting better the day after it was made and freezes brilliantly. It’s a winner and I’ll say this very quietly due to the very suspicious nature of sailors; it is very good made with rabbit instead of chicken, almost better in fact but I can’t make that on Mariquita. Rabbit on boats is bad-luck. 

    To feed 5-6 people you will need;

    1 jointed whole chicken, 10 skinned thighs (or 1 jointed rabbit, Sssshhh!)
    4 sliced onions
    1 tsp sugar
    5-6 crushed garlic cloves
    1 jar of roasted red peppers or 3 freshly roasted and skinned red peppers, roughly chopped
    1 tbsp dried oregano
    2-3 sprigs of fresh rosemary
    1 jar of black olives in brine
    ½ pint of red wine
    2 chicken stock cubes
    3 tbsp tomato puree
    2 tins chopped tomatoes
    3 tbsp balsamic vinegar


    • Start by sautéing the chicken pieces in a big pan in sunflower oil until they are browned all over. You're not trying to cook them all the way through, this is just to brown them. When the pieces are browned, remove them from the pan and set aside.

    • Using the fat that’s already in the pan, start to gently sauté the onions with a sprinkling of salt and a tsp of sugar. This could take up to 20 minutes. Your looking for them to just start to colour. Add the garlic and oregano and rosemary.

    • Then add back to the pan the chicken pieces. You may need to transfer to a very large pan like I did, if you’re running out of room.

    • Then bring the heat back up so everything is having a good sizzle and add the tomato paste. Stir it all around to mix well and to fry the tomato paste a bit.

    • Then add the red wine. Let it bubble and reduce for about 8-10 minutes. Next add the tinned tomatoes, red peppers and some of the brine from the black olives. Crumble the chicken stock cubes into the pan and add the balsamic vinegar.

    • Now bring to the boil, then turn the heat down to its lowest setting and leaving the lid off, let the cacciatore sit there for about 1 ½ hours or longer if you wish. It should be just barely simmering.

    • When you put the pan on for the pasta now is the time to add the olives to the chicken. Taste it for seasoning and adjust as you see fit. Garnish with lots of torn basil leaves and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Serve with rocket and parmesan and a nice big glass of red. Mop up the juices with warm ciabatta bread.

    I wish you could smell that.

    I have been making this dish as I write it for you so this is exactly how I make it.  But this does mean that you won’t be looking at any pretty pictures of the finished dish just yet. It will be going straight into the freezer once it has cooled, ready for Monday night whilst on our trip to Ajaccio in Corsica. I’ll make sure to remember to take some pictures before I eat it. Well, I’ll try.

    I’m going out for dinner tonight in Nice. I’m very excited because apart from a meal at the Delhi Belhi, a great little Indian in the old town, I haven’t really managed to explore Nice all that much. I can say for certain that the super markets are quite a way from the harbour and it’s definitely worth calling a taxi for the Carrefour. There are lots of little Spars around the old town and some open on Sundays, but do watch out for the dog pooh (all week, not just Sundays). French hop-scotch.

    Before I go I’d love to hear some feedback from you, so please fill in the comment box below. If you’re struggling with that, I’ve heard it’s not easy, then if you go to my Facebook page, 33 Degrees, and leave a comment there, I would be very grateful. Simply click on the Facebook window on the right, halfway down this page.  If you would like any menu ideas, advice or have any questions at all about food, I would love to be able to assist if I can. And if you want to share some recipes of yours with me, especially your secret little tricks for making good food excellent, I'd be even more grateful. I can try your recipes out on my crew. You'll recieve the best feedback from them. They're a large, hungry bunch of foodies.

    Thanks for reading folks. Let’s get talking!  Cheers.

    Friday, 13 May 2011

    Chicken & Porcini Risotto with Lemon Thyme

    It’s Wednesday today and we have the day off. And I find myself lying in a swimsuit by a pool in the hot May sun of Nice. Nice.

    Cheeky Chappy, Birthday Boy Will
    George and I wandered over to the on-shore crew accommodation which Nat, Niki, Will, Matty and Tom are currently living in before we leave for Corsica on Monday. Also it’s Will’s Birthday today. Happy Birthday Will! 

    So they live here in ‘digs’ and the rest of us live on the boat which, as you’ll know if you read some of my earlier blogs, has its ups and its downs. Never leaving work is one of those downs, so on a day off it’s important to try to get away from the boat and treat yourself to a new perspective on life. Some breathing space; a different experience, a change is as good as a holiday and all that.

    And as different experiences go, this will do nicely thank you. It’s a beautiful pool and it’s quiet and although I’m not sure I have enough sun lotion on, I think I’ll lie here and write this blog and if I get burnt, I’ll blame you, ok?

    Smoking Halyards Can Seriously Damage Your Health

    Talking of burns, I got a goody on my arm and a few on my fingers. They say smoking is bad for you and I can tell you it hurts too. I’m actually talking about ‘smoking’ halyards. It’s a non-technical term for letting a halyard go quickly but in a controlled manner if a sail needs to be dropped instantly. And my position on the boat when we’re racing means that I get to ‘smoke’ a lot of halyards. (Hence the sailing gloves) This particular halyard was the spinnaker halyard and although I have done it plenty of times, for some reason or other I took too many turns off the cleat and was effectively holding around 2 tons of sail in my hands. I let it go, but managed to control the drop enough that no one noticed anything untoward until I squeaked pathetically to George that I had to go down below to shove my ‘smoking’ hands into the ice maker. It was a great drop and I’m in no position to give up smoking quite yet but I think I’ll be slowing it down a little.

    Just as exciting, the night before the smoking halyard incident I made a risotto. It had to be a risotto. All the ingredients were there for a goody of a risotto; a bag of dried porcini mushrooms, a pot of fragrant, zesty lemon-thyme, home-made chicken stock and some plump little chicken breasts. If I’d been really clever I would have gone to get some of the wet garlic that’s been kicking around in the markets at the mo. Wet garlic is so exciting and so delicious, I’ll try to get hold of some whilst it’s in season and get a recipe for you. But as I just had the normal, dried bulbs a fair amount of that went in instead.

    The risotto fed 6 of us and I managed to get away with only putting in 2 chicken breasts but coupled with the ‘meatiness’ of the mushrooms, it was a perfect combination and great for the budget. I can’t ‘big-up’ homemade stock for any risotto enough but as I’ve said before a cube or two will do if you haven’t any fresh.

    Love and affection is also heavily required for a risotto. Set the time aside to make it. Stick on some of your favourite tunes and pour yourself something special into your favourite glass and dedicate yourself to your risotto. Love your risotto.

    So here it is, chicken and Porcini risotto with lemon-thyme. Serve with a good rocket salad and I reckon my brother-in-law (Bill for short), would probably be the best person to ask being a real sommelier, but I do think red, white or rose would suit this one. Ch-ching!

    For Chicken and Porcini risotto you will need;
    2 small onions, finely chopped
    1 tsp sugar (Feeling a bit Mary Poppins every time I write that)
    2 chicken breasts, cut into bite sized pieces
    3 garlic cloves, crushed
    1 ½  pints chicken stock
    Bag of dried porcini mushrooms or any funky dried forest mushroom that you like
    1 pint hot water
    Box of risotto rice
    2 tbsp lemon-thyme, chopped and smashed a little
    Zest and juice of 1 lemon
    2 tbsp crème fraiche
    1 cup of grated parmesan cheese
    1 glass of dry white wine for the risotto and as the bottle is open…

    • Begin by putting your dried mushrooms into a ceramic dish and pour in about one pint of hot water. This rehydrates the mushrooms and the water will take on a marvellous dark brown colour and mushroom flavour which you will add to your stock.  Soak the mushrooms for about 15 minutes then skim them out gently. Some sediment may have sunk to the bottom so when you add the mushroom liquor to the stock, make sure this gets left behind.

    • Meanwhile, put the chicken stock into a pan and bring to a gentle simmer. This is an important rule when making risotto, to have hot stock.

    • Gently sauté the onion in a heavy bottomed, deep pan with some sunflower oil and a small knob of butter. After a few minutes add the sugar. Season with some salt. Then once the onion has started to soften, add the chicken breasts.

    • Sauté the chicken for a few minutes and then when all the pink has gone, turn up the heat to get a good sizzle and add the drained mushrooms. Then add the rice and half of the lemon-thyme. It will want to stick to the pan so you need to keep it on the move. It gets fun now.

    • When the rice has had a good fry and is starting to look opaque now is the time to throw in a glass of dry white wine. It will have a good sizzle and splutter but keep it stirring, this is all good stuff.
    • Having now added the mushroom liquor to the hot stock, you can start adding the stock to the risotto. Do this one ladleful at a time, stirring constantly until all the liquid has been absorbed, then add another and keep this up until all your stock has gone or your rice gets to it’s al dente stage. 

    • Now no one likes a stodgy risotto so when you think the rice is almost perfect, I always add a good few ladles of stock to loosen it all up. Then turn off the heat, add the crème fraiche, parmesan, lemon zest and juice and the rest of the lemon-thyme. Taste and season till it is perfect, then bung on the lid and let it rest whilst you spruce up a little salad and muster your hungry.

    If you make a few risottos you’ll start to get your own little ‘risotto tricks’ to get that perfect consistency and flavour. I always use up all my stock, so I either make way too much or have a boiled kettle ready to top up if I run out. I love adding lemon zest and juice and sometimes a final splosh of wine at the end of cooking can turn an average risotto into a great one.

    Tomorrow I will begin to make a few delivery meals for the trip to Corsica. To be honest it’s only a 36 hour trip and I’m hoping we’ll catch some fish. So what goes in the freezer can stay there for a busy regatta if we do. I’ve stocked my cupboards with sushi-making ingredients in optimistic hope.

    So now, if you’ll forgive me I will probably need to turn over and roast the other side of me. And then a nice little dip in the pool I think.

    I don’t think I can help myself but I so have the best job in the world. Life at 33 degrees is turning out okay for now.

    Thanks a lot for reading. See you next time.