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It has been a few weeks since we started our family fitness challenge, and my mention of letting you in on the fun of reward dinners. So far, we’ve had 3 themed feasts. With 11 participants gathering around our table every 2 weeks, we’ve ditched the concept of a formal dinner in favour of a potluck affair, much like we used to do on the boat: everyone is in charge of a dish and bring their own alcohol.

Our second theme in May was Mexican. Besides Terry, everyone in the family loves it, and it always brings fond memories of our stay in Puerto Aventuras a couple of years ago. That night also happened to be Tania’s birthday (Terry’s middle daughter), so a proper fiesta was in order.

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Have you ever cooked a dish with ingredients you know other people in your house/boat/camping party don’t like/won’t eat so you go ahead with it in a very selfish “more-for-me” kind of way?

I did last night. It was not out of nastiness, quite the contrary. You see, we have been on this Fitness Challenge for a few weeks now (all good, thanks for asking) and with 6 people sharing the cooking, it’s meant adjusting the dinner menu to accommodate everyone’s tastes and dietary requirements. Some would say it would be easier to let everyone cook for themselves, but I am pretty particular about dinners: this is the only time the whole family is home, and a nice meal around the dinner table is the best way I have found over the years to spend precious moments together. It wasn’t always easy, and there were many testing times, especially when the kids were babies and toddlers. Back then, we used to have two seatings: 6.30pm for the kids and 8.00pm (or later) for us parents. The one thing I always insisted on though, was one dinner. As a new mum, I only ever had time to cook one dish, so whatever the kids ate, we ate, and vice versa. The trick was to adapt the plate so that everyone would find the dish appealing. Examples: chicken curry soup (chili on the side), bangers and mash turned into smiley faces, boat lettuce leaves for san choy bow, and never underestimate the power of caramelised apples  with ice cream (that goes for a lot of fruits!)!!! This went on for a while, until around the age of 5, when both children realised that they would not die from eating “grown up “ food and took a liking to Caesar salad, duck breast or vegetables fritters. Sure, there are stuff they still won’t touch, but same with us. Anne gives her mushrooms to Marc, who passes his olives to Terry, who pushes prawn tails my way while I hand him the anchovies. No one’s perfect!

Anyway, all I am getting at is, that I am a very big fan of the single menu dinner, even when faced with different eating requirements. Lately, I have had great fun expanding my repertoire to more “wholesome” food thanks to the low-carb/gluten-free/nut-free/chili-free/no shellfish eaters among us (they know who they are, and I love them to bits!). While it’s been an eye opener, and I am sure my body feels better for it, my carb-deprived mind slowly started to entertain the idea of cheese on toast and juicy succulent pork ribs… Read More

What difference 12 months make. May last year saw us making landfall in one of the most remote parts of the world, the Marquesas Islands, after spending over 3 weeks at sea. A time of sheer solitude and peace for us adults, it was lived as a challenge for the kids. Hot and bothered, no friends, seasickness…all Anne could think of was the prospect of her upcoming birthday, for which she begged her father to arrive on time so that she could have a party with friends. Luckily the gods of the sea cooperated and indeed, we caught up with cruising buddies in the islands in time for Anne’s big day. It was a great day, spent in a typical “cruising” style: tube riding in Taiohae Bay, lunch and play at the local snackbar, cakes and drinks on the boat…just the memory of it reminds me of what is great about cruising life. Expectations, if any, are very simple.

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Last year’s birthday party onboard!

Take throwing a party for example. In a remote anchorage, with a dozen boats around: invitations are made casually “doing the dinghy round”, dress code is “tropical casual” (meaning everything goes, from bikini and a sarong to cocktail dress, as long as it will survive a dinghy trip!), everyone is asked to bring a dish to share (very much like an American potluck dinner) and BYO drinks. The latter is most important, since most yachties have a limited supply of drinks on board, and while it is expected that the bigger the boat the bigger the cellar, it is just good form to bring your own drinks. The fun element is provided by the various guests happy to tell their sailing stories while the kids spend hours jumping off the boat. We have followed this entertaining format for years on VOAHANGY and I am still to recall anyone who didn’t enjoy themselves (though I do remember a European guy once, expressing surprise at the BYO concept).

Trying to stick to the formula this year was a challenge. It started with Anne initially wanting a “Lasertag” party for her birthday: 10 pre-teens running around a dark room shooting laser at each other for 1 hour, fed a slice of pizza, a soft drink and some birthday cake. Hummmm…not so sure. After years of hosting parties on the boat, I suggested a house party instead, and I got more than I bargained for when she asked for a pool party. May in Sydney is notorious for impredictable weather: cold and rainy one day, balmy and sunny the next. I crossed my fingers, and instructed Terry to ensure the spa heater was working. In the meantime, the one and only birthday party had kittens, when Anne asked to have not one but TWO family dinners ( making up for these who could not attend on the day, Mother’s Day,…don’t ask, too complicated!) So here I was, spending most of the week planning a pool party for 16 kids, one dinner menu for 14, another for 7…It was frantic: kids being dropped off and picked up, thankfully one mum stayed to help watch and keep me company, and luckily the potluck and BYO concept  is well embedded in our family, so there wasn’t too much slaving in the kitchen. Just a lot of washing up!

Here is how the weekend unfolded…

Anne’s Pool party ( for 16 )

Fruit platter, chips and popcorn

Lemonade

10 Pizzas catered by Pizza Hut (I know, I know…)

Ice cream sundae bar*

Birthday cake (vanilla sponge)

A beach cake for a pool party

A beach cake for a pool party

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Family dinner # 1

Guacamole and corn chips, pork sausage rolls, chicken triangles in filo pastry ( generously prepared by our guests)

Beef Burgundy served with elbow pasta

Birthday cake (chocolate fondant*)

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Family dinner #2

Witlof and calamari salad

Baked whole salmon

Bacon and green beans parcels

Mashed potatoes

Birthday cake (vanilla cupcakes with marshmallow icing*)

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 Ice cream sundae bar

This is more a concept than a recipe. The idea came from Anne, as a fun alternative to a birthday cake ( though in the end, she had both, since you can’t put candles on ice cream after all!):   choice of 2 ice cream flavours (chocolate and vanilla), choice of 6 toppings (sprinkles, toasted coconut, gummy bears, smashed oreos, M&Ms, sour patch), chocolate sauce, mango sauce. Scoop out the ice cream in individual cups (or cones), present the toppings in attractive dishes and let the kids create their own sweet masterpiece!

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Chocolate Fondant

Every one has a favourite recipe for chocolate fondant, this is ours. It was given to me many years ago by a French friend, Fabienne, another cruising mum whose family we travelled with for over 6 months, from the Canary islands to Brasil. I have tried a few others but as the kids say, “Fabienne’s cake is the best”.

chocolate fondant

Serves 6-8

Ingredients:

200g (1 packet) dark chocolate

100g (1/2 cup) sugar

70g (1/2 cup) plain flour

120g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter

4 eggs

3 tbsp full cream milk

1 tsp cinnamon

A pinch of salt

  1. Preheat oven to 180 deg C
  2. Melt chocolate, milk and butter in a medium saucepan over a pan of simmering water.
  3. In a large separate bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until thick and pale. Add the sifted flour, cinnamon, salt and chocolate mixture. Fold the lot until combined.
  4. Pour into a 25cm cake tin, lined with baking paper.
  5. Bake for 20 minutes. The cake should be dry on the outside while still soft to the touch and gooey on the inside. Cool and Keep at room temperature, it actually tastes better the next day.
  6. Serve dusted with icing sugar. Enjoy!

Vanilla Cupcakes with marshmallow topping

These cupcakes are pretty basic. However the topping is what makes them sooooo nice. It makes use of marshmallows, which I would never have thought of unless I read about it in one of Anne’s Cupcakes cookbooks! Add cream and coconut and you’re in heaven…

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Serves 12

Ingredients:

For the cupcakes

120g (1/2 cup) butter, softened

110g (1/2 cup) caster sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

125g (1 cup) self-raising flour

1 tbsp milk

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 deg C. Put 12 paper liners in a shallow muffin pan
  2. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  3. Beat in the vanilla extract. Sift the flour into the bowl. With a metal spoon, fold the flour into the batter until well incorporated. Be gentle with it, otherwise the mixture will become heavy. Add the milk and gently fold into the batter. It should have a smooth consistency and drop easily from the spoon when tapped on the side of the bowl.
  4. Spoon the batter into the paper liners. Do not overfill or they will rise and form little mountains (as mine did!)
  5. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the cupcakes are risen and golden, just firm to the touch.
  6. let cool in the pan for approx. 10 minutes, then turn onto a wire rack and let cool completely.

For the topping

12 white marshmallows

2 ½ tbsp milk

1 cup heavy cream

40g (1/2 cup) unsweetened dried shredded coconut

  1. place the marshmallows and milk in a heatproof bowl, set over a pan of simmering water. Heat until the marshmallows have melted, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and let cool.
  2. In the meantime, whip the cream until firm peaks form. Fold into the marshmallow mixture with ½ of the coconut. Cover and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  3. Spread the topping on top of the cupcakes and sprinkle over the remaining coconut. Alternatively, sprinkle baby marshmallows! Enjoy!!
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Now that the move from the boat is all but complete, there has been a mood shift in the kitchen. For now, there is no more market exploration, unknown produce or foraging ashore for food. Instead, with so much available and numerous social occasions to eat and drink over the past few months, we have found ourselves faced with a choice: keep indulging at the cost of an ever expanding wardrobe and a lousy feeling, or reign in the hungry self! Normally, while cruising, the effect of food indulgence were balanced by a reasonable amount of exercise (trekking, swimming, sail handling…) and passages at sea, guaranteeing (at least for me!), a few alcohol-fat-free days. I used to look forward to these “ocean detox”, knowing that seasickness would help shed these extra kilos…

Nowadays, it takes a conscious effort to keep the unwanted weight at bay, and it appears we’re not the only ones struggling for motivation. A few years ago, faced with the same issue, we introduced a family challenge (competition is too strong a word)  involving not only Terry and I, but also his daughters. Between the 5 of us, we lost 70 kilos over 12 months. It worked a treat and it was a lot of fun, so with a forthcoming wedding (not mine) and fun-run (I’ll walk), we decided to start a new challenge.

Here’s how it works:

  • The challenge is to last 5 months, from May to September (wedding is in October)
  • Each participant contributes $5 a week in a common pot. Winner takes all.
  • HOW people lose weight is their own business, there are no rules: alcohol-free, sugar-free, paleo, exercise or not, fasting or not…it’s up to you!
  • Results are monitored fortnightly, during a “weigh-in” session at our place, using the same scale for everyone. Whoever cannot attend these sessions, must forward picture evidence. Consistent weight loss is what it’s all about, so anyone putting on extra weight is “fined” an extra $5 a week.
  • Rewards dinners follow weigh-in sessions every fortnight. That is the fun part for me, as it is the opportunity to all get together at our house ( while 9 of us are participating, a few others like to join in for the meal!) and we’ve made a habit of selecting a theme for each dinner. In the past, we’ve had a ball playing with ideas like “Classics with a Twist”, “Weird food combos”, “Gourmet dinner under 500 calories” or “Raw diet anyone?”
  • While I am happy to cook a whole feast, we find it more fun to set up these dinners as potluck and have everyone bring a course: easier on the host but also keeping the guests engaged.

Though I am all for healthy eating, this blog is NOT about dieting. So there won’t be any posts about exercise sessions, weekly weight loss reports and the like. I will however bring you into our dining room and share the fun of our reward dinners…

Our first reward dinner was last weekend and I picked the Paleo theme. The main reason was that, though everyone had heard about the “caveman” diet, no one could get their heads around it. My bit of research established that it consists mainly of eating unprocessed and whole food, which rules out any kind of grains, sugar added concoctions, grain-fed animals and dairy. Not a major concern for me, since I’ve never had a taste for junk food or sweet treats. Still, giving up starch/carbs is a huge deal, same for dairy, no matter how little I consumed already. So I looked for inspiration in specialised books like the funny Michelle Tam’s Nom Nom Paleo, the inspiring Mayfield’s Quick and Easy Paleo Comfort Food and of course, the good looking Pete Evans Going Paleo. This way of eating is actually close to my heart, since I’ve always found that my body functions better on a diet of meat and salad, rather than fish and chips or cheese and ham croissant (both of which I absolutely adore!). Saying that, I don’t plan to go Paleo all the way. In the same manner I always argue that life is too short to eat bad food, I also believe life is too short to deprive yourself of your favourite treat (cheese is my weakness, what is yours?) At this stage this is an experiment for me and my friends. And after a sugar loaded previous week, we were looking forward to a more savoury type of dinner.

So, here is what the feast consisted of:

Guacamole with Chicharrones (pork scratchings), vegetables sticks and sweet potato chips

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Baked chicken marylands with Cauliflower Rice and sautéed greens

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Banana ice cream with fruit salad and toasted coconut.

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I am happy to report that dinner was a hit, no one asked for bread or potatoes, or even mentioned the enormous amount of vegetables! Maybe I will stick to this Paleo thing for a couple of weeks and see what happens…

Chicharrones

This is a throwback to our time in Mexico. Chicharrones are delicious pork snacks, very popular in Spain and Latin America. Similar to pork rind, the crackly and crispy chicharrones can be found all over Mexico, including in the supermarkets where they are sold “freshly made”  in a glass display the same way we buy fresh popcorn at the movies. We loved them so much, we used to buy entire bags and munch on them as you would with potato or tortilla chips. This dish is a trip down memory lane, bringing me back to our favourite restaurant in Tulum, La Zebra, where I became seriously addicted to their mean guacamole served with chicharrones for dipping. It takes a while to prepare, but it is so worthy… reckons it is the ultimate beer snack!

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Serves 8 as a snack

Ingredients:

1.2 kg pork skin

Vegetable oil for deep frying

  1. Trim the fat from the underside of the pork skin ( keep the fat to render and make your own lard, if you’re that way inclined, otherwise discard, as I did!). Cut the skin into 5cm pieces. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil over high heat, add pork skin, reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes or until tender. Drain the skin and dry on absorbent paper.
  2. Preheat oven to 100 deg C. Place the pork skin in a single layer on an oven tray lined with parchment paper and bake until dry. This can take a couple of hours, maybe more but do not rush the process by increasing the temperature, as you will start “cooking” the rind and it will start “sweating” its own moisture ( it happened to me and made for a chewy chicharrone rather than a crumbly one!)
  3. When the pork skin is totally dry, heat the vegetable oil in a large deep saucepan (or deep fryer if you have one) to 180 deg C. Deep fry the skin in batches until puffed and crisp (2 minutes top, watch they don’t burn!). Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on absorbent paper until cool (not very long at all!)IMG_2002
  4. For a real taste of Mexico I serve these little beauties with Tajin, a spicy seasoning made with ground chili, salt and dehydrated lime. If unavailable, make your own spicy salt with salt flakes, chili flakes, rind of 1 lime and finely chopped chipotle chili. Chicharrones can be eaten on their own (watch them disappear muy rapido!) or serve alongside guacamole.IMG_2008

Cauliflower rice

Cauliflower is one of my favourite vegetables. Just as well, considering how much it features on a Paleo diet. Its colour, texture and relatively bland flavour make it the perfect substitute for grains and this “faux-rice” dish has become a hit in our house, even with our non-paleo eaters! To obtain a rice consistency, you will need to chop the florets finely. A food processor comes in very handy for this!

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Serves 4 as a main course, 10 as a side

Ingredients:

1 large head of cauliflower, trimmed and cut into florets

1 onion minced

2 tbsp olive oil

4 green shallots, trimmed and sliced

2 tbsp coriander, finely chopped

2 tbsp basil, finely chopped,

1 tbsp mint, finely chopped

Salt and pepper

Fried shallots and cherry tomatoes, for garnish

  1. Grate the cauliflower in a food processor, using the pulse function, until you have a rice-like consistency: not too coarse, not too mushy.IMG_2098
  2. In a large sautee pan (or a wok), heat olive oil on high. Add minced onion and fry until golden. Add the cauliflower rice and stir until well coated. Cover and cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally until tender, about 10 minutes.
  3. When done, take off the heat, toss in the shallots and the herbs, mix until combined. Sprinkle fried shallots and some cherry tomatoes halves for garnish.
  4. Serve with sautéed greens and roast chicken Maryland. Enjoy!

Banana ice cream

This has to be the easiest dessert around. One ingredient: bananas, the kind that go ripe on you in the blink of an eye. Instead of throwing them out, I like to peel them, cut in slices and keep in the freezer. They are a perfect standby for smoothies, muffins, to dip in chocolate or as ice cream. My guests could not believe how delicious and simple it is!

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Serves 4 as dessert

Ingredients:

1 overripe banana per person

  1. Peel bananas, cut into round slices, lay on a tray with baking paper in a single layer and place in the freezer, for at least 2 hours or until frozen. If not using immediately, transfer to small ziplock bags and keep in the freezer until needed.
  2. Place frozen bananas in the bowl of a food processor and process until the mixture turns creamy. It will take a few minutes: the bananas will first turn chunky, then break down in soft lumps requiring you to scrape down the bowl a couple of times. Don’t despair, they will end up soft and creamy. At this point keep processing for a minute or so to aerate  the ice cream.
  3. Place the ice cream back in the freezer for about 1 hour, until hard again. It can be eaten straight away, but it will be more like very soft serve ice cream.
  4. Serve scoops with your favourite topping. For us it was fruit salad and toasted coconut, but chocolate ganache would be great too!!!

It’s been mayhem on board for the past few weeks. The time has finally come to move off our beloved boat and relocate ashore, in our old house. As most people would know, moving is stressful and time consuming. Especially when you decide, like us, to shun the help of professional removalists and stagger the workload in stages over the course of the Easter holidays! It started easy enough, with the sorting of any unwanted and superfluous items. Some ended up in the trash, others made their way to the garage, and will probably stay in boxes for the next 2 years. Then we turned to the essentials: cookbooks and magazines, pantry items, kitchenware…what to leave onboard ( we still plan to use the boat as a weekender…for now), what to take in the house. I have lost count of the number of boxes shipped off, and while the kids have been real troopers, efficiently  packing their own cabins, I didn’t fare as well: procrastination is my enemy, keeping things until the last minute, just in case…much to my husband’s frustration.

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However, since we are still officially living onboard (after all, we are coming back to it every night for dinner and a sleep), retaining a functioning galley has turned out very handy. Gourmet meals have been very few, saved for the occasional guests (more on that on a later post!) or odd times when feeling “in the mood”. Instead, it’s been basic roasts, sandwiches, salads and accommodating left overs has become part of the weekly rotation. One of our favourite meals is what I call Left Over Quiche. The family loves it, the flavour is only limited by your imagination or the content of your fridge!

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The concept is quite simple really: rummage thru the fridge, look for any left over meat (roast veal, grilled chicken, Italian meatballs, lamb curry…whatever is there!), add garlic, onion and any other aromatics you fancy, beef it up with chopped vegetables (cauliflower in this case, but spinach, carrots, capsicums or even potatoes work well), moisten the mixture with something creamy (soft cream cheese or pouring cream) and fill in a puff pastry. Sprinkle with grated cheese (very important!), bake as you would a quiche and Voila!  Perfect meal on a boat or in a house!

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Left Over Quiche

Serves 4 as a main course

Ingredients:

2 cups leftover veal roast, roughly chopped

2 cups leftover ham ( I buy inexpensive ham pieces from my butcher for that purpose!), roughly chopped

2 tbsp olive oil

1 cup chopped onion

2 cups chopped cauliflower (discard the leaves, use stalks and florets)

250g chive and onion cream cheese

1 cup grated tasty cheese

1 sheet frozen puff pastry (homemade is great too, if you have time!), thawed

½ cup parsley, chopped

1 cup grated cheese, extra

  1. In a large pan/skillet, heat olive oil on high and brown the chopped onion. Add the chopped cauliflower and sautee until slightly golden and tender (not mushy!).
  2. In a large bowl, mix all meats with the sautéed onion and cauliflower
  3. In a small pan, warm up the chive and onion cream cheese until runny, add 1 cup of grated cheese and mix until combined.
  4. Spread the puff pastry in a 9-inch (23cm) pie dish, fill in the meat/vegetable mixture, pour the cream cheese over, pushing into the meat to ensure it soaks in. Sprinkle parsley and extra cheese.IMG_1790
  5. Cook in a preheated 200 deg C oven for 45-60 minutes, until top is golden brown.left over
  6. Serve with green vegetables or a salad. Enjoy!quiche
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