Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Tuesday Tips #3 - Even Heat

Tuesday Tips #3 - Even Heat

Baking in a boat galley oven has its challenges. Most galley ovens, at least the older ones that seem to grace most sailboats I have the fortune of visiting, are badly insulated and made of lightweight, thin metal. Keeping an even distribution of heat is a challenge, at best. If your galley oven is constructed like mine, it has a metal subfloor. Locate a pizza stone that fits that space, or use a combination of unglazed terra cotta tiles to line that subfloor. The stone will absorb the heat and redistribute it evenly throughout the oven cavity. It will also maintain the heat when you open the oven to check on things or to rotate them, so you will use much less propane. I was unable to find a rectangle pizza stone that fit my oven so I purchased the terra cotta tiles. If you use them, be sure to verify with the dealer that the tiles are lead-free. All tiles sold in the U.S. are supposed to be lead-free but I had the vendor contact the manufacturer to be sure. I bake my pizza directly on the tiles with only parchment paper between, and lead was not the seasoning I was looking for. The terra cotta tiles are also much less expensive than a pizza stone of comparable size, so they can be replaced when they get too dirty. Now with the tiles installed, my cakes are more evenly baked, my pizza crusty, and the cook happy!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Tuesday Tips #2 - The Cold Butter Problem

Tuesday Tips #2- The Cold Butter Problem

I love baking, and moving onto the boat hasn't changed that. Our Tartan 42 has a wonderful galley, and I bake often in it. I also happen to have a captain with a particular penchant for cookies. Inevitably, making cookies is an impromptu thing, spurred on by the realization that I've already heated the oven for dinner and may as well not waste the propane used to heat up the oven. This usually results in the realization that I don't have enough softened butter to cream with the sugar, something I nearly always do by hand. After a lot of experimentation, I've come up with a solution to the dilemma that works so well that I use it for biscuits, pie crust, and any other recipe that requires cutting cold butter into a flour mixture. All you need is a very inexpensive cheese grater like this one, although I've had mine for over twenty years.

Take your chilled or frozen stick of butter and grate it into your bowl. If you're cutting the butter into a flour mixture, then grate about a half inch of the stick and stir that in, then repeat until it's all mixed in. Using a whisk, it will cut into the flour mixture in no time. If you grate it all then try to stir it in, it will clump into a ball and make it harder. If you're grating it into sugar to cream, do a small portion as well, mixing it lightly into the sugar until you have it all grated. After its lightly mixed in then you can beat it to cream it into the sugar. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Tuesday Tips #1 - The Venerable Spatula

I have a lot of people ask me how I've handled various things on our boat so I decide to start a "Tuesday Tips" section on Cruising Comforts. If you have any suggestions or questions for future posts, please leave a comment and I'll try to address it.

Tuesday Tips #1 - The venerable Spatula

A good, silicone spatula is one of the most valuable tools in the galley. Aside from the obvious, that you can easily scrape all the peanut butter out of a jar and save you money, it can save you many unpleasant hours of boat plumbing by scraping dinner plates clean and not running the greasy remnants down the drain. It saves precious washing and rinsing water by scraping the dishes before washing as well. I use mine every single day, so much so that I have three of this particular model. I like it the best because it has a smallish head that fits into most jars, and the edges are sharp so they clean incredibly well. It's offered on Amazon, but it only comes in a package of three assorted spatulas, the other two of which I gave away. In my mind, it's cheap insurance. I can think of many better ways to spend the afternoon than cleaning out the sink trap.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Gluten Free Rice Flour Tortillas

As I've mentioned before on the blog, my grandkids have major food allergies. They were coming to visit us on the boat and I had to come up with some new recipes for them. One of them is allergic to wheat, the other to all forms of dairy, both of them have sensitivities to corn and potatoes. All of the starches and the xanthum gum used in typical gluten free flour mixes cause them problems. The only completely safe flour for them at the moment is rice. Trying to find a 100% rice flour tortilla recipe was daunting. I began to experiment with a few and ended up combining a couple of them to end up with this successful one. Most of the ones I tried left me with a sort of tostada crunchy tortilla, one that would not roll up or fold without cracking. This modified recipe leaves you with a soft, rollable tortilla with great flavor and consistency. 
Rice flour tortillas must be made pretty soon before eating and they don't really keep very well, so plan accordingly. Do not use white rice or sweet rice flour for these tortillas. Only brown rice flour will work. I apologize for the lack of step-by-step photos in this post, but I had three small children "helping" me so it limited my picture taking!


2 c water
1 tsp salt
1-2 tsp olive oil
2 c brown rice flour


Heat the water, salt, and oil in a small saucepan until not quite boiling. Add the flour all at once and stir vigorously with a heavy wooden spoon. The mixture will form into a stiff dough quickly and will make a ball. If it doesn't, add a bit more flour and continue to mix until a ball is formed.

Cover the ball with plastic wrap and let it stand for 10 minutes.

Knead the dough until it's smooth and consistent in texture.

Break off a plum-sized ball and roll it between sheets of parchment until it's very thin. You will need to remove the parchment, replace it loosely, flip, remove the parchment on the other side, replace it loosely, then roll again. Do this several times during the course of the rolling to prevent the dough from shrinking the paper into wrinkles.

When the dough is thin, peel one side of the paper off and flip the paper over, transferring the tortilla to a medium hot griddle or iron skillet. Peel the paper off the top and allow the tortilla to cook until bubbles form on the surface and small golden areas appear on the underside. Flip and cook until the other side is the same.

Transfer the tortilla to a plate lined with parchment. Place another parchment square on top of the tortilla and invert another plate on top. Continue to stack the tortillas between squares of parchment under the plate. The two plates will trap the moisture and the tortillas will absorb the moisture back into them, giving you soft tortillas. 

Note: There is one exception to using white rice flour. If you need a sticky tortilla to roll for chimi changas, then use sweet rice flour. The tortillas are very much harder to roll and to transfer, but they stick well to themselves with a brush of water and stretch a bit easier to contain the fillings before you fry them. The brown rice flour tortillas work best for hand held burritos and tacos, but for anything fried, they cracked when rolled tight enough. The chimi changas with the white rice flour were delicious!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Gluten Free Rice Flour Tortilla Chips

My grandchildren have inherited my generation's unfortunate desecration of the food supply in the form of multiple food allergies. Three of my nine grandchildren are coming to visit next week, so the sailing vessel Kintala's allergy-free test kitchen is in full testing mode today for new recipes. I actually came up with this recipe as a result of trying to make some form of rice tortilla or wrap. My original attempt didn't result in anything appealing so, in an effort to salvage what I had made, I decided to convert them to tortilla chips to use for scooping hummus. They were a grand success. If you happen to have a gluten free issue, please try these. They are super quick and easy to unbelievably inexpensive, and are much more delicious than any I've bought in the store.

Measure 1/4 C white rice flour into a small bowl. Organic rice flour is best, but I didn't have any at the moment so I used regular. Add 1/4 tsp of olive oil and 1/8 or less tsp of salt to the rice flour and stir.
Add a little water at a time while stirring with a wooden spoon until a ball forms and cleans the sides of the bowl. It should look and feel like play dough - soft but not sticky. If you add too much water, don't worry - just add a bit more rice flour until the consistency is correct.
Divide the dough into two balls.
Sprinkle a bit of rice flour onto a square of waxed paper or parchment paper. Press the ball out into a circle with your fingers.
Sprinkle a bit more rice flour onto the dough and top with another piece of waxed paper. Roll the dough with a very light touch on the roller. Stop periodically and remove the paper, add a bit more rice flour, replace the paper, flip, and repeat. Do this until the circle is about 9" across and as thin as you want your chips. Thinner yields lighter chips, thicker yields crunchier chips. Just remember that the thinner the dough, the harder to transfer it to the pan.

Remove the top paper and, using the bottom paper, flip onto a medium hot griddle. Remove the paper that you used to transfer it. Cook until small bubbles appear, flip, and cook again until the dough is set and the edges start to lift. It will not get browned so don't over cook it.
While the tortilla is cooking, heat a couple cups of oil in a small pan to between 350° and 360°. It doesn't take much oil. If you are making the cinnamon sugar version of these, I think you could use coconut oil but I haven't tried it. I use our infrared thermometer for this and it works well.

Cut the tortilla into 6 wedges with a knife or pizza cutter.
Place 3-4 of the wedges into the hot oil. They will immediately puff up and float to the surface. Cook them for about a minute (depends on your oil temp) until the bottom starts to get golden, then flip them with a slotted spoon.

Cook them another minute or less until the second side is golden.
Remove them to a cooling rack or cookie sheet lined with paper towels to drain.
Immediately salt them while still warm. You can use a fine regular salt, garlic salt, cinnamon sugar, or any other seasoning. The finer the consistency of the seasoning, the better it will stick. Cool them completely. I'm not sure about storing them. I will update later. At this point, I think it's best to make small batches that you will use right away. One of these recipes makes 12 chips. What you see here is two recipes' worth.

These are super crispy and excellent for scooping hummus.


Friday, July 1, 2016

Easiest Way to Cut a Pineapple

Here's a little video to help you with your holiday weekend picnic preparations. Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Top Ten Most Usable Galley Tools

Now that we've been living on this boat for more than four years I thought I would do an evaluation of the top galley tools that I use constantly. Most of these are so useful that I wish I had bought multiples of them. If they are still available I have linked to them in the titles. If they are not still available, similar items are out there. So, without further adieu, here's the list that made the cut.

What it is: A very small silicone spatula that has very fine, sharp edges and a square shape to the bottom with a bamboo handle. It came as one o a set of three. The other two I rarely use, but this one doesn't seem to ever be offered by itself.

Why it works: This spatula is only 1-3/8" x 2" so it's small enough to fit inside most of the small jars that I use on the boat. The super fine, sharp edges completely clean whatever I'm using it on which means that I'm not washing the remnants of whatever jar, skillet, plate, bowl, or leftover container down the drain where they will clog the hose. It has lasted me for four years with multiple times each day use. You can see in the picture that the edges are now starting to chip a bit, but this is not reflection on the quality of the product, only on the extent of use.

Good Quality Ice Pick

What it is: Mine is a 70-year old ice pick handed down to me from my dad. I have no idea where it came from, only that it has served well and is one of the most valuable tools in my galley

Why it works: The key to choosing a usable ice pick is to look for one with the pick securely attached to the handle. Most of the cheaper ones will separate rather quickly. You can sometimes find the ones that the pick and handle are all one piece of stainless. I can't recommend any specific one currently available as I have never had to buy one. We use ours for ice, naturally, but it also comes in handy for poking cakes that you're pouring sauces onto (think Tres Leches Cake), for tenderizing meat (wash carefully after), for aligning screw holes, and would come in handy as a defense mechanism in the event that your boat was boarded by undesirables.

 Chef'n Prep Bowls

What it is: A set of nesting, silicone prep bowls that measure 1/4 cup, 1/3 cup, 1/2 cup, and 1 cup.

Why it works: This set of silicone bowls is one of those I wish I had bought several of. We use them for everything. They measure and have pinchable areas on one side that form a sharp pouring spout. They also make great small bowls for serving dips and appetizers, or for olives or nuts, or just about anything else you can think of. They wash up beautifully, are easy to store, and don't rust. They no longer offer this color scheme, but the bowls seem to be the same.

 Comet Brand Drip Coffee Pot

What it is: My coffee pot is a very old 50s vintage aluminum pot that I inherited from my dad. It has a base with handle, a nesting filter basket, a water container that sits on top and the lid. It makes 4 cups of coffee or 2 large mugs.

Why it works: This pot makes perfect coffee. You boil the water in a tea kettle and pour it into the water container that you stack on top of the filter basket that you stack on top of the base. The water filters through the coffee in the filter basket and then you remove the water container and filter basket and replace the lid on the base. I know there is a tremendous popularity of the French press coffee makers, but I hate cleaning them on the boat because it's difficult to keep the grounds out of the drain and uses a lot of water to clean. This filter basket accepts a standard coffee filter which is easy to toss when you're done. You can still buy these on eBay and other vintage outlets.

GSI Outdoors Silicone Collapsible Java Drip

What it is: A 1-4 cup coffee maker that easily collapses and stores on a boat.

Why it works: If we're only making a single cup or mug of coffee, this is our go-to coffee maker. It sits on top of the cup and accepts a cone coffee filter. You pour hot water directly on the grounds in the filter and allow it to soak down into the cup. It takes very little time to make, cleans up easily, and stows in a very small space.

Any Brand of Parchment Paper

What it is: Parchment paper, if you've never used it before, is a super slippery non-stick paper that allows you to cook without burning or sticking.

Why it works: I simply can't cook on a boat without this stuff. I use it under all of my cookies which allows me to slide the paper off the cookie sheet (I only have one on the boat) and get the next batch going in the oven. I also use it under pizza and place it directly on my baking stones in my oven. I line loaf pans with it when I make banana bread, and roll dough out on it on my counter. It's absolutely essential in boat ovens which are known to have uneven heat. It helps to protect the bottoms of cookies and biscuits and any other baked good from sticking or burning. You can get the Reynolds brand in just about any grocery store, but Big Lots has a brown version that is a fraction of the price. Even most dollar stores carry it.

 Small Water-tight locking-lid containers

What they are: These two examples are very small, but I have many versions on the boat, many of them much larger. Any brand of waterproof, locking-lid container is fine but I use these two very small ones the most. The round one is about 3" and holds 1/2 cup and the rectangle one is about 3x5 and holds 1 cup.

Why they work: Top-loading boat refrigerators are extremely difficult to organize. Things topple over, get squished, and the lids of regular containers get popped off, spilling the contents everywhere. The only thing worse than organizing a marine top-loading fridge is cleaning one. In addition, things get forgotten in the bowels of these refrigerators and these airtight containers keep the spoilage in and also any resulting odor. The round ones pictured here I found at Big Lots, and the rectangle ones I bought at Aldi on one of their weekly special. This small container was one of a set of three nesting ones. The larger ones I use to store pasta, flour, pancake mix, nuts, brown sugar, etc. The rubber gasket keeps everything out and I have never had bugs infiltrate any food item stored in these.

Old School Potato Masher

What it is: A readily available and extremely cheap potato masher.

Why it works: Aside from the obvious potato mashing when you don't have an electric mixer on board or don't want to use the inverter, this tool is great for mashing up the butter and sugars in cookie dough. There are two kinds, those with the s-turn bars and those like this one with the plate design. The ones with the s-turn bars are also good for retrieving lost halyards.

Digital Laser Infrared Thermometer

What it is: A fairly inexpensive, digital readout, infrared thermometer designed to test the temperature of engines and other miscellaneous heat-producing machinery.

Why it works: This thermometer gets used on our boat a ton. It gets used to read the temperature of the engine, but it gets used much more as a check-the-liquid-ingredients-for-bread-making tool. It's precise, and I have never had a yeast dough fail due to excessively hot or cold temps since I started using it. Also works great to check the temperature of the oven.

Large Pressure Cooker 
(But not why you think)

What it is: A six quart Presto Pressure cooker, circa 1975

Why it works: Yes, I do use my pressure cooker to actually cook the things in it you're supposed to - meat, stews, etc. But the primary use of our pressure cooker is two-fold. First, we make really terrific popcorn in it. It holds a big batch, doesn't burn it because the bottom is so heavy, and if you leave the rocker off the top it vents the steam nicely without letting the kernels fly all over the galley. Second, I use it to raise bread. If you put the lid on but not the rocker and set it in the dodger in the sun, it raises the bread dough beautifully and very quickly. Just oil the cooker a bit before putting your dough in there. One of the chief reasons for yeast dough failure is the rising dough sitting in a draft and, seriously, where is there not a draft on a sailboat???? I even use this method when we're up north in colder weather and the sun sufficiently warms the pot to raise the bread even if the air temperature is cool. I haven't tried this method to make yogurt yet, but I believe it's going to be about the correct temperature for that as well.

So that's my list, and while it's not completely inclusive, it does get my absolute tools that I can't do without. How does your list look?