Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Now Thats What I'm Talking About!

Oops, was that me? They do say be careful what you wish for but this is what I'm talking about! Snow falling in La Garde Freinet is a very rare event indeed but in the course of an evening I think we've had six inches already and it's still floating down like a billion angry feathers.

I love it!

I think a snow boarding trip could be imminent.

Unfortunatley George has a Landrover and the snow chains to go with it, so trying to blag a day off work tomorrow to build snowmen and take millions of pretty white photos could be tricky. Oh well, more sanding it probably is then. And I'll stick with 'probably', because you never know...

Trying to move Billy's car. Good sign for tomorrow...?

The crew house

Here I am in winter maintenance mode... glamerous no?

Oh look! I'm sanding.

Tim and Joe trying to keep warm in the forepeak

If you made it all the way down to the bottom by the way, it's still snowing.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Sugar and Wheat-Free Roasted Butternut Muffins.

Well I’ve got myself into such a pickle. I feel cheated of my Lazy Sunday. Things started on the wrong foot when I woke up early enough to go to work. That’s always a disappointment on a Sunday isn’t it?  The laundry pile is threatening to take over the universe and I’ve got so many things to do, I’m in a tiz-woz about where to start. I’ve had to write a ‘To Do’ list with the 3rd entry being ‘Brush Your Teeth’. At least that one is achievable; hang on…

That’s better. And now the recipe for those muffins with a fresh and minty out-look and calming cup of coffee. Everything else can wait. This is what I want to be doing today, my Lazy Sunday. The rest can wait. Everybody else can wait!

I don’t even have kids yet.

But back to those muffins I promised yesterday.  After they had been extracted from the oven and left to cool on their little rack in the kitchen, I returned a little later to find that half of them had already been eaten; the boys licking their lips without a glimmer of suspicion in their eyes. I took the risk of uttering those undesirable words; ‘sugar and wheat-free’ so as not to feel that I had knowingly tricked them into a corruption of their rugged steak and beer-swilling masculinity. But this information didn’t seem to faze them at all.


So as always, these are easy enough to make on a boat or caravan, provide plenty of good energy and fibre, taste fantastic warmed with a little butter and lemon curd or natural yoghurt, however you please. But yes, they are totally sugar-free and wheat-free and if you only use corn (maize) flour, they can be gluten free too. And if you are a steak-eating, beer-swilling sailor type, it would appear that you will also like them. Who knew?

So for 12 large muffins you will need;

1 large butternut squash
200g wholemeal spelt flour
100g of fine corn flour (maize)
2 tsp baking powder
50g unsalted butter
200ml natural sugar free yoghurt (goat or dairy, I used goat)
1 free-range egg, beaten
2 tsp of vanilla extract
25g desiccated coconut (optional)
2 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp mixed spice (optional)
Zest of 1 lemon, juice of half or if you prefer use an orange instead.


  • Heat the oven to gas mark 5/190ºC, 375ºF.  Cut the squash in half and place cut side down onto a lightly greased baking tray and bake until soft, about 45-mins to an hour.

  • When the squash is cooked remove from the oven to cool and turn the oven up to gas mark 6.

  • Now sift the flours into a large bowl and add all the other dry ingredients including any of the spices you would like to use

  • Melt the butter and then mix into a smaller bowl with the yoghurt, beaten egg, vanilla extract, lemon (or orange) zest and juice.

  • Using a fork, roughly mix the yoghurt mixture into the bowl of flours, blending the ingredients together but not too much.

  • Mash the cooked butternut squash with a fork. Add this to the muffin mixture and fold the butternut in with a large metal spoon. Again, do this gently and you don’t have to over-do it. Muffin mixtures always work better if they still have a few lumps here and there.

  • Put a good couple of tablespoons worth into each muffin hole in your muffin tins and if you like, shimmy a little extra cinnamon over the tops before putting into the oven. Bake for about 25-30 minutes but check them after 20 as your oven probably doesn’t lie about its temperature like mine does.

Well now, that’s another tick in the box. Well done me. My Grandmother used to say, ‘Everything in moderation’, and she lived till she was a hundred. Think I might take a leaf out of her book and leave the ‘to-do’ list till a bit later. Mustn’t over-do things.

Now, lets not all get too excited but I do believe that that is snow over in them there mountains…

Things are looking up.

Thanks for reading.


Saturday, 28 January 2012

Sugar-Free Muffins in the Making

At last we have rain. That’s not something you hear said very often unless you live in the Serengeti or here when there is no snow in the Southern Alps, mid-winter. If there is rain down here, there is the strong possibility of snow up there – we hope and pray.  So today, being Saturday and rainy, is a perfect day for baking. Methodical, easy baking with the predictable happy ending that most baking produces and every rainy day needs.

I’m currently baking a whole butternut squash in the oven which will be the main ingredient for today’s Butternut Muffins. Now these little mounds of treasure are muffins with quite a difference. You could call them savoury – or you could call them sugar-free. Depends on the psychological edge you need them to have. I am calling them sugar-free because that is the aim of my New Year resolution so far; to depend on sugar a lot less than I didn’t realise I apparently did…  (Let’s not dwell on whether that makes sense; it feels like it makes sense).

I’ve always considered myself to be without a sweet tooth. When I was a kid I would spend my ‘sweet money’ on prawn cocktail crisps or sketch books and crayons. I have obviously always liked chocolate of course, although without the strange emotional need for it that some (girlfriends) experience. But generally I’ve always said I’m more of a ‘pastry girl’.

But doing a bit of research I have discovered that I do actually consume a fair amount of sugar and cutting it out or down is a much harder task then it may first sound. White breads,  white pasta and white rice send blood sugar levels soaring; most convenience, pre-packaged foods, pickles, ketchups (ouch) and dairy products like yoghurts etc and when you start adding it all up it doesn’t half make you think.

And checking out my muffin tops I decided to find some healthier ways of eating and some low-sugar alternatives to those times of the day when one finds ones head very unexpectedly thrust into the fridge or the bread bin looking for a ‘hit’.

I found this recipe for sugar-free, butternut squash muffins and have given them the usual Suzy-twist to make them more acceptable to my gluttonous palate. They are not meant to be a savoury snack but a sugar-free ‘sweet’ snack. I know that doesn’t make sense because they have no sugar in them but by teasing your brain and taste buds with the flavours of cinnamon and vanilla, you can feed your craving but not your muffin-tops with muffins!

Now I think my butternut should be roasted and ready and the amusing display I have been watching out of my bedroom window of the neighbour trying to ‘walk’ her cat has ended in – I would say – reasonably predictable failure as it walks off, tail and nose held high in the absolute opposite direction. So I shall go bake and I’ll be back later with a recipe and pictures.

I reckon these would be great for kids too and also for breakfast. If you’re not worried about your sugar intake then these muffins warmed and smeared with some honey would be pretty good and since they’re full of good fibre, they would still be a very healthy and low-sugar snack. But don’t let that put you off.

Try ‘em and see. They are delicious, soft and light and fluffy and very satisfying. Even and especially at that time of day around 4pm when biscuit tins around the world are being wrenched open in the search for a blood-sugar revival.

Thanks for reading, back soon.


Monday, 23 January 2012

Mimosa Monday

The yellow spray of Mimosa as I drive to work in the warmth of one of January's Mondays, fills me with concern for the lack of snow in the Alps and the little action my snowboard is experiencing. When the winters are cold and the snow is deep you can almost feel the excitement waft down to you in an over-flow of exhausted fun which beckons you up with charmingly chill arms.

This year there is no welcoming pierce of white invitation from the mountains this side of France. To find good snow we must travel north where apparently they are drowning in the stuff. There is no doubt about it; we’re deeply jealous. We could take a weekend and travel a little further afield to satisfy our snowboarding cravings but then we’d have to take more time and spend more money and that’s not part of this winters plan. The purse strings are puckered and tight.

My days on Mariquita are rattling on at a gentle pace of typical boat maintenance. I have painted deck heads and beams and varnished floors and cooked some lunches. It is an unfortunate disposition when one has a blood-curdling reaction to sandpaper and also works on an old wooden boat – but I do and always have. I shudder even at the thought of sandpaper and anything of a similar texture such as bricks, unglazed terracotta or blackboards. The thought has me bucking in uncomfortable shivers. Consequently a good few of my jobs on the boat verge on the torturous and take a great deal of mental persuasion to get the job done. It’s not all roses.

However it will all be about the blossoming Mimosa; the warm, scentful and tiny yellow buds that emerge in their thousands around the Cote D’Azure at the first inclination of a new season. Whether you’d prefer the cold and snow or not, there is nothing we can do about it. Mother Nature follows her nose and here she is bidding for Spring.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

A Saag Aloo Round-Up

We had perfect rice cooking techniques, then we had naan bread and now we have Saag Aloo.  This is probably my most favourite friday-night-on-the-sofa meal. It is vegetarian but really, from one meat eater to… perhaps some others, you won’t miss it here.

I made this for lunch on the boat, served with a crunchy salad which rattled with toasted flaked almonds and bean sprouts, served with a yoghurty, lemony dressing full of zing and zest. And homemade Peshwari naans to complete things.

The great thing about the saag aloo is that it is so satisfyingly filling and tasty. Served with some grilled, fiery red tandoori spiced chicken breasts, this becomes a truly hearty feast of tummy rubbing proportions; naan bread, chutneys, yoghurt and papadums – oh yeah. But the saag aloo on its own is a perfect partner to any girls Friday night on the sofa with a glass of wine and some soft doughy naan to mop up. Pyjamas and a good movie with Robert Downey Jr in and what more could there be to satisfy? I ask you.

And as you can see (out of my fantasy box) it makes a great crew lunch on a cold boat too, served with a salad. Slightly different take there but just as welcome.

My version is quick and basic but tastes divine. It’s probably a million miles from a proper saag aloo recipe but this is all about cooking and loving food and doing both of those things on a boat or in a caravan or anywhere else that may not have a super-dooper kitchen.

Or just because you’re on your own and it’s Friday night and you want something a little bit special but easy to cook whilst you watch Robert Downey Jr on the box. I’m with you Girlfriend.

So for a quick and very tasty Saag Aloo you will need
4 medium non-descript potatoes. Or 8-10 small new potatoes
800-900g (1 large bag) of fresh spinach
2 medium brown onions roughly chopped
3 cloves of garlic, sliced or roughly chopped
1 inch knob of fresh root ginger, grated
1 tbsp garam masala or curry powder or a bit of both…
2 tomatoes roughly chopped
1 tsp sugar
1 bunch of fresh coriander
Knob of butter
1 small pot of natural yoghurt


  • The quickest way to make this is to boil the potatoes first. Don’t peel, just chop into bite-sized pieces and bung onto boil right up until they are almost cooked. They need to have some bite left in them so that when you add them to the pan for the saag aloo, they don’t turn to mush. Now you must save the potato water by draining the potatoes over a bowl or jug to collect at least 200 ml of the stock.

  • Whilst the spuds are doing their thing, heat up a nice heavy pan and add some olive oil and a knob of butter. When the butter has melted, add the roughly chopped onion. Cook over a medium heat until they are translucent, around 5 minutes or so. Then to the onions add the garlic and ginger and finely chop the stalks off of the fresh coriander (about a tbsp) and add that to the pan. Continue to sauté over a medium heat.

  • Now add the chopped tomatoes. These give the dish that touch of acidity needed amongst the potato and spinach and round the finished dish off brilliantly.

  • Add the potatoes and turn the heat up a little to get a good bit of sizzle going. This is the perfect moment to add your spices. The heat will open up the aromas and accentuate that Indian flavour the Garam Masala provides in abundance. The colour looks good too. Season with salt and pepper and add the teaspoon of sugar. Feel free at this point to add fresh chilli’s if you’d like a little kick.

  • Now add the saved potato stock to the pan and bring to a gentle boil. Then turn the heat down to low and leave to simmer for ten minutes or so until the potatoes are cooked through and the dish has thickened a little.

  • I like to chop the washed spinach up a little before I tip that in. It will be a huge mound of leaves in your pan but it soon wilts down as you stir it in to the aromatic potatoes. Let this cook for about another 5 minutes. Check the seasoning, adding more salt if the spinach has diluted the flavour a bit.

  • It should be fairly ‘creamy’ by now and if you wish you can stir in the fresh yoghurt just before you serve or you can serve the yoghurt as an accompaniment. I also like to finish it off with a squeeze of fresh lime or lemon and a sprinkling of lightly toasted flaked almonds and the chopped fresh coriander leaves.

See there, now that was pretty straight forward. But a taste sensation, believe me. In fact, if you are on your own-some forget the fork, just scoop the soothing, deep green Indian stew up with some fresh naan bread and lick your fingers without apology. Robert Downey Jr won’t mind at all.

I hope you’re enjoying your weekend too. I’m planning very little for tonight. A good fire and movie night I think.

I wonder who’s cooking.

Thanks for reading,


P.S I forgot to say; by all means use frozen spinach, about 400 g and halve the amount stock as the frozen spinach will add some of its own liquid but it is just as good.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Stand By Your Naan

 Our days here in France are numbered. Mariquita will set sail for the UK in April which will come upon us in no time at all. Or maybe I’m getting a little ahead of myself due to the Spring-like weather and rising crew numbers. I suppose it is still just January and we have got the fire lit. But when we do set sail for the UK we will be heading ever closer to my new house.

I may have been a little distracted lately. George and I have finally found our dream cottage in Suffolk and I am a little bit more than over-excited. I have wanted this for a very long time, somewhere to call my own; to lay my hat and to one day settle down in when I’m a big girl. My own sunny kitchen, fragrant herb garden and my own welcoming front door with a decent knocker. I’ve had it all worked out in my head for a very long time which you will know if you read my blog back in May last year, ‘My Other Life and Baked Bananas’.

It’s still all a little surreal if I’m honest and until I have the keys in my hand, I’m not going to actually believe my dream is coming true.

So today I decided to distract myself from constantly looking at the few pictures I have of my future home and get down to some experimenting in the crew house kitchen in La Garde Freinet, France.

Last night I made a curry. It was a delicious chicken curry with rice. However there was one important thing missing from my curry that can’t be bought or ordered from a take-away unless you want to drive all the way to Nice.

Naan bread. I love it. And a proper curry is night is not complete without naan bread involved. My favourite naan bread is Peshwari Naan. The soft pillowy dough filled with a nutty almond and coconut sweetness, all buttery and soothing and apparently the village my new house is in, has a great Indian take-away… sorry, distracted again.

So I made my own. Six little sweet, doughy naan’s which took a mere 30 minutes and tasted fantastic. All the better for mopping up those tasty curry sauces and a great centre piece for a curry night – homemade naan’s. Brill.

For 6 Peshwari Naan’s you will need;

450g self-raising flour
½ tsp salt
½ tsp baking powder
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tbsp vegetable oil
4 tbsp plain yoghurt
2 beaten eggs
100 ml water
50 ml milk
50g melted butter (or ghee if you've got it)

40g butter
2 tbsp raisins
2 tbsp desiccated coconut
1 tbsp ground almonds
1 tbsp hazelnuts
½ tsp garam masala
Zest of 1 lemon and juice of half


  • Sift the flour, salt and baking powder into a large bowl. Add the cumin seeds, oil, yoghurt and beaten eggs and begin to mix well with a fork. Slowly add the water and milk at the same time little by little and when it’s all starting to come together, get your hands in there and work it all into a soft dough. You may not need to add all the milk and water if looks like it might get too sticky.

  • Knead the dough for a minute or two until it's nice and smooth and then cover and leave to rest for around 15 minutes.

  • Heat the oven to 220ºc, gas mark 7 and heat up a large, heavy non-stick baking sheet in preparation for the naan’s.
  • Put all the peshwari ingredients in a blender and whizz till you have a grainy paste.

  • Now divide the dough into 6 equal portions and roll each portion into a ball in your hands. Now take 2 of the dough balls and with a rolling pin roll them into rounds on a floured surface. Take a good tbsp of the peshwari filling and smear it onto one side of the round. Then wet the edges of the round with water and fold the dough over, sealing the edges shut. Roll out gently again with the rolling pin and either roll into a round or try to get the classic tear shape. But any shape will do. And roll them as thin as you dare, they really puff up in the oven.

  • Carefully take the hot baking sheet out of the oven and put the two naan’s onto the tray and return to the hot oven for about 4 minutes. Take out of the oven and keep the naan’s warm wrapped in a tea towel. When you have rolled and cooked all the naan’s, turn the grill onto high. Brush the naan’s with a good smear of melted butter (or ghee) and then put them under the grill to lightly brown.
  • Brush them all again with melted butter and then wrap in a tea-towel till you are ready to serve.

Ideally you should serve these straight away but if you do make them in advance, sprinkle with some water before putting in a hot oven for a few minutes which will soften them up nicely.

It’s got a fish and chip shop too our village. Now that’s exciting. An Indian and a fish and chip shop. My British take-away taste buds are obviously starved here in France. Poor me with all that delicious French bread and Magret De Canard and fig jam with camembert... But home is where the heart is and soon we’ll be sailing back, home bound. And I can’t wait!

Thanks for reading,


Sunday, 8 January 2012

How To Make Perfect Rice (and no machine)

A Happy New Year to you all! I hope that you all had a fantastic festive holiday and ate loads of great food. Or just ate loads. Consuming huge amounts of Quality Street is one of Christmas’s highlights for sure but I wouldn’t necessarily class them as ‘great’ food. However, once emptied, the tin is very handy for the storing of future magnificent baking projects! I do believe my Grandma has Quality Street tins that have housed many a Victoria sponge since the late 17th century, or so it would seem. So in their own little way, however vague, I guess Quality Street have had a hand in ‘great’ food there somewhere.

So we made it up to the Alps after Christmas to squeeze in a little snowboarding before the start of the new season on Mariquita. It's going to be a goody of a year onboard in 2012. We will be sailing to the UK for two regattas and have some new members of crew to meet very soon and train up in the ways of all things ‘Mariquita’. The old (less of that) remaining crew will be responsible for singing the sea shanties extra loud to make up for anybody who doesn’t know the words.

There will be delivery food and provisioning to start planning for the long sail to Gosport, Portsmouth in April, a trip which could take 3 weeks or so and there will also be the usual hope of fish catching and the freshest of sashimi eating along the way.  And of course the hope of flat calm seas…

But back to our little visit to the Alps before I start to worry too much about that one.

We stayed in a little self-catered wooden chalet and as these things go with self-catered accommodation; what it lacked in the way of saucepans it made up for in small red, beetly-type bugs which crawled out of the woodwork and hung out in the curtains and dropped occasionally from the ceiling onto our heads while we had dinner. Which was nice…

Anyhow. The thrust of this blog comes from a rather long conversation we had concerning rice and how best to cook it when faced with a kitchen minus a rice cooker (and in fact anything helpful like a sharp knife).

Now rice cookers are a new thing to me. I don’t have one and didn’t realise that so many people seem to have a fear of cooking rice in a saucepan. This is a shame because rice cookers are so big and I’m wondering how to tell George that he will have to keep his rice cooker in his garage because I need my kitchen space for useful things like plates. (We’re in the process of buying a real house on real solid ground. Very exciting)

Personal domestic issues aside, my rice cooking recommendations were kindly noted, have been tried and tested and I was told I must blog the technique because it was such a success. Hopefully I have saved at least one kitchen from one more expensive gadget. I’m sure that a lot of people know this one but for those who don’t, this never fails, makes perfect rice and is worth a try before you spend any money on a machine; which may then lead to the need for an extension. Although, saying that, if you do need and extension, my Dad is a great architect and would love the work.

Normally I just guess-timate the amount of rice, water and time and once you have cooked rice a few times following the instructions below you will then be able to do the same thing with the guessing and have the confidence that it will work. I promise!

 Okay, so for perfect rice every time without a machine or any other gadget then rice know-how, here it is;

 For 4 people you will need;
65g rice per person, 260g overall
300 ml of cold water
a good pinch of salt
one saucepan
cling film or 1 tight fitting lid


  • It’s all about 3’s with rice. I normally fill the saucepan with two thirds rice and the last third water. So when cooking rice for up to 6 people you can expect there to be no more than a fingers width of water above the rice in the pan. For now, put the measured amount of rice in the pan and then fill with the measured amount of water and make a mental note of how that looks. Add a little salt and stir. Now add a very good lid or a layer of cling film. There needs to be no way for any steam to escape. That’s the important bit! Cling film is great for this and don’t panic, it won't pop.
  • Now turn on the heat and bring the rice to a gentle boil. AS SOON as it starts to boil, turn the heat down to its lowest setting possible. The smallest flame, the lowest heat. Out of heat up to ten, I go down to a 2 on an electric hob and the smallest flame on a gas hob. So, so far it’s specific but easy, yes?

  • Keep the heat this way for approximately 16 minutes. And in NO circumstance take off the lid! It is the steam that is cooking your rice perfectly and if you take off the lid or the cling film the steam will escape and the water will not absorb. Lecture over, once the 16 minutes is over, turn off the heat.

  • BUT DO NOT TAKE OFF THE LID YET. Let the rice ‘rest’ without any sneaky peeking. It is still absorbing water at this stage and this is the crucial ‘fluffy’ rice making stage. If you used clingfilm then the clingfilm will suck itself down onto the rice which is great. Just leave it as it is.

  • You can leave it like this for as long as you need to which is great if you are cooking the rice in advance. But definitely leave the rice to rest for no less then 10 minutes. When you are due to serve it simply take the lid or cling film off and fluff up with a fork. To heat it up if you have left it for a while, simply put the rice over a gently heat and keep stirring it till it is well heated. 

  • There. It might look like a complicated method but do this a few times and it will become as easy as one, two, C for three (little Chinese take-away joke there).

Oh and it is known as the ‘absorption’ method which is in effect how a rice cooker works.

Once your rice is cooked you can get down to finishing that turkey curry. Or perhaps fry some onions, garlic and ginger in a frying pan and add a few beaten eggs to scramble, add a little soy sauce, some bean sprouts and possibly some cooked prawns. Stir in your cooked rice, mix well over a high heat and you have a little special-fried-rice on your hands.

A good start to 2012, I hope without too much 'lets all eat salad after Christmas'. It is still winter after all. 

Stay tuned for boat friendly recipes and an exciting programme for Mariquita and her crew. I’ll try not to go on too much about my new home that will be waiting for me in Suffolk. But let’s just say, I love this year already and it has only just begun.

Thanks for reading!