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?

Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Pumpkin Pie Panic

This year has been an odd cruising year. We had hoped to make it to Stuart, FL by Thanksgiving to have our dinner with friends, but the combination of hurricane Joaquin and the passing of my husband's father set our travels back by six weeks. We did manage a good dinner at Bucksport Marina on the ICW, but it was not one I labored over with love in my galley.

This weekend a friend of ours came to visit who had also not had a good Thanksgiving dinner, and it seemed like an appropriate time to spend the day cooking. I prepared my favorite pumpkin pie, opened the Hillerange oven door to put it in, only to discover that the mercury switch in the oven wall was in flames. I quickly turned off the oven, flipped the propane solenoid and turned off the propane at the tank. After a few minutes of discussion with my resident boat mechanic, it was determined that the mercury switch was defective and that we were, once again, without an oven. Most of the rest of the dinner could be prepared on the stove top, but the ready-to-bake pie sat there, taunting. After having learned to make pizza on the stove top last summer, I began to wonder if the pie could be baked on the stove top as well. I began to construct a stove top oven of sorts, by placing my heat diffuser on the burner. Next I placed a foil strip around the edge of the pie crust and lowered the pie pan into my cast iron skillet which I placed on the diffuser. I inverted my 10-1/2 inch heavy stainless steel deep skillet on top of the pie pan and baked the pie for about an hour on a medium low flame.

I anticipated that if it worked at all, the crust would most surely be damp and gummy. Much to my surprise, the crust was golden brown, and the pie perfectly set. The keys for the success seem to be in setting the pan on the crumpled foil around the crust which allowed the steam to escape, and in not raising the lid at all during the baking time. Our pumpkin pie panic turned into a very nice sharing of pie with neighbors over some good coffee and conversation. Score!

Fold a long piece of aluminum foil in quarters length wise and place this strip around the pie, crimping the ends together

Place a diffuser on the burner, place a cast iron skillet on the diffuser, place the prepared pie plate in the skillet (lip of pie plate should rest on edge of skillet but the bottom of the pie plate should not touch the bottom of the skillet.) Invert deep, straight-sided skillet on top of pie, resting edge of skillet on crimped foil.

Place some hot mitts (sorry mine are well-used and not pretty) on top to help hold the heat. It also helps if your top pan is a good heavy-bottomed pan.

Bake for about one hour on a medium-low flame. Do not lift lid to check. Smell periodically to check for burning - your burner temp may need to be adjusted either up or down.

 The crust browned nicely, which I think was a result of the crust being right against the top pan.

It passed the taste test!!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Beer Box

Ed note: updated 3-23-18. See note.

After posting the Beer Tubes post, a couple readers asked if I had attempted something similar for bottles, so here we go.

The bottle box was a much more complicated affair. First of all, what size do you make it, because there are so many beer bottles out there in different sizes? I modeled our box to fit a Killian's Irish Red which is the same height as a Yuengling. If your favorite beer is shorter or fatter, you may need to use a different size dryer duct. Second of all, bottles are too tall to efficiently store them upright so the only conclusion was to lay them on their sides and roll them up. Good in theory, tougher in practice.

I used the same 4" dryer duct tubes to form the box. It requires three of them, and they need to be laid flat out and the corrugated end cut off. One piece will form the front of the box, the width of the panel is almost exactly the length of a long-neck beer bottle, and the other two will be bent to form the sides and back. Here's the specific directions. (I apologize in advance for some of the blurry pics. The macro setting on my camera seems to have gone on the fritz).

Flatten out the first tube. Measure the depth of your fridge that you want the box to be. Cut on that line. Cut all three panels in the same way.

Choose the panel that will be the front of your box. Slide one of the other two panels into the locking grooves.

 Bend that panel at right angles using first your hands and then a ball peen hammer to sharpen up the corner. Remove that panel and repeat with the other side panel.

Mark each panel because you will be taking them off and putting them back on during the test fit process.
At this point yo should have something that looks like this.
Measure for the next fold. This measurement will be the diameter of your beer bottle plus a smidge. You need to allow room for the straps to move as well as the bottle to roll without hinderance.
Use a table edge or a yardstick to form the next bend, using hands first for the rough bend and then the hammer again for the crisp edge.
This should be what you have next.
This is a closeup of what the corner should look like where you slide the two pieces together.

At this point you should have something like this.
 Tape the loose edges together with painter's tape, just to temporarily hold them together. Measure the width and match it exactly to the width of the front piece so the box is square.
At this point you should be able to see the two locking channels available to you. Well, at least hopefully you can see better than this blurry pic. The channel you will use to join the back is the one on the top in this picture.

This is the correct channel to use. the panel to the left in this picture will be cut so that it fits into the groove on the panel to the right of the picture. Mark the left hand panel with a Sharpie and cut it. Be sure to cut carefully and in a perfectly straight line so that it fits into the groove on the right panel.
 Slide the one back panel into the locking channel on the other back panel and tape it with Gorilla Tape. As with the Beer Tubes, don't skimp on this. Regular duct tape will succumb to the moisture always present in boat fridges.

Tape all of the joints at the locking channels with Gorilla Tape.
Cut two pieces of ribbon or webbing that are at least 1" wide, and 2-1/2 times the length of the box. Lay them as pictured and run a length of Gorilla Tape over them from side to side.

 Run the webbing down into the box, across the bottom and back up the other side. Use one of your patiently waiting beer bottles to hold the webbing down.

Cut a piece of dowel rod the width of the box. Cut the webbing so that it is long enough to go around the rod and have an inch and a half to tape to itself.

I found the box was not stiff enough so I had to add a piece of 1/4x1-1/2 trim to the front edge to stiffen it up. I just taped it on and taped around the edge.

Lay your  bottles in like this. I alternated mine facing every other direction and they seem to roll a bit better.

Here's the video demonstration. It's completely functional, but not near as elegant as the Beer Tubes. But hey, at least you can get a beer without removing everything else from the fridge. The energy savings alone should pay for a six pack before long. Enjoy!

Note: I have since changed the design a little. I removed the straps and added a piece of Phifertex. I taped it along the top edge, made it long enough to go to the bottom and back up the other side and rolled out around a piece of wooden dowel to use as a handle. The bottles tended to fall out of the straps and the Phifertex makes a nice cradle for them to sit in.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Beer Tubes

(Ed note: updated 8-8-16 - see end note)

One of the most frustrating things about living on a boat (especially for my husband) is dealing with a top-loading refrigerator. Every once in awhile you'll even see the cartoons about someone falling in while trying to reach something on the bottom.

For my husband, the big frustration was in getting a can of Coke or beer out. They always seem to migrate to the bottom of the fridge and getting one involved removing almost everything. We tried various racks designed for regular upright fridges but they just didn't work. After seeing that a good friend of ours had the same issue with his fridge,  I decided to create a solution.

I once had a friend that stored his grill propane tanks in a piece of PVC pipe attached to his bimini rail. It had a slot in the side so he could push the tanks up and out the top as he needed them. I thought something similar might work in the fridge, only the slot idea wasn't going to fly because the fridge is usually packed and it would be impossible to access it. I then began to think about using a ribbon or piece of webbing to lift out the cans. Several trips to the hardware stores changed the plan as the smallest diameter PVC tube is 3" and it's just a bit too big for the cans and takes unnecessary space in the fridge. The wall thickness was too big also, which would mean longer cooling times for the cans.

I spent an hour just walking around Lowes looking at stuff and happened on the aluminum dryer duct pieces - the ones that come in a flat sheet and you curve them into a tube and lock the edges together (not the flexible hoses). The smallest one they had was 4" diameter, but I figured I could cut it down and it would work fine.  I did, and it did. So here's the directions:

Materials required
1 piece of 4" dryer aluminum dryer duct extension for each tube. Mine was a 2' section
1 piece of heavy grosgrain ribbon or webbing that is 2-1/2 times the length of your finished tube
Gorilla tape - don't skimp on this.
Good pair of tin snips

If you're using the 4" duct extension, examine the locking mechanism so you cut off the right edge. You need the slot edge to remain because once you cut off the other side, you will insert the cut edge in to the slot before you tape it so that fingers and the cans won't get cut on the sharp edge.

Once you determine which edge to cut, mark 3-3/4" from the edge in several places with a permanent marker and draw a line to cut. This aluminum is very sharp so watch your fingers. Cut very carefully because you need a perfectly straight edge to insert into the slot.

Carefully wrap the sheet into a cylinder shape and working from one end to the other, insert the cut edge into the slot on the other edge. It takes some wiggling to get it to go in the whole length.

Cut a piece of Gorilla tape the length of the tube and place it evenly over the seam.

Cut the tube to the length that will fit in your fridge, allowing about 1/2 of space between the top of the tube and the underside of your fridge lid.
File or sand the top and bottom edges of the tube to remove any burrs.

Lay your ribbon or webbing about 2" from the top of the tube and tape all the way around the tube top, fastening the webbing under the tape.

Run the webbing over the edge, down in to the tube and up over the opposite edge making a dip in the webbing. Place a beverage can on the webbing and continue to lower the can into the tube, adding more cans as you go.

Here's the video of the final product in action:

Some miscellaneous notes:

I fastened my tubes to a wood divider that we have in our fridge so they wouldn't topple over if the fridge was not full. I did that with another piece of webbing that I screwed into the wood, around the tubes, and back into the wood.

Also, I did notice through trial and error, that it appears you can't fasten the webbing onto the tube directly over the seam. For some reason it changes the shape of the tube when you pull and makes the cans stick. Fasten the webbing 1/4 way around from the seam.

We have styrofoam board on the bottom of our fridge on top of a teak grate for insulation, and I actually "screwed" the tube into the foam a bit to hold it in place.

If you have any other ideas for modification or improvement, leave them in the comments!

Update 8-8-2016

After using these now for over a year, a few issues have come to light. Were I to make new ones, I would make them just slightly larger. As the tubes wear, the top edges bend a bit making it harder to slide the cans out, making the webbing strap push off to one side or the other. I might also consider using the PVC the next time. All in all, these tubes have been a lifesaver on our boat!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

In search of the perfect cheeseburger

Note: Edited to add a couple things I forgot.

The perfect cheeseburger has always eluded me. This is particularly frustrating because cheeseburgers happen to be one of my husband's favorite foods. I've tried the grill thing, both charcoal and gas, and always seemed to end up with burned on the outside and dry, dry, dry on the inside. Tried cooking them less, and ended up with red on the inside, which is a no-no for me. Just can't do the rare thing. After years of trying, I had pretty much given up and left the cheeseburger eating to those rare nights when we ate out.

Fast forward to our cruising days. That would be our budget cruising days, the ones that include even much rarer eating out, and cheeseburgers were being missed. One day I spent a few hours on the settee determinedly perusing the internet in search of the perfect cheeseburger recipe that would yield the heretofore unrealized juicy, fragrant, flavorful culinary delight of beef, cheese, and bun. After reading a dozen sets of instructions, I pooled the  most sensible of the ideas, got out my meat and gave it a try. To say that my husband was pleased would be an understatement. It was, in fact, something akin to an orgasm, I believe. So perfect were the results, that we now have cheeseburgers almost once a week. So it is with great fanfare that I present to you, The Perfect Cheeseburger.

Before you even start, know that this recipe takes time. Do not rush it, because if you do, you will not get the results you are looking for. Here are the steps.

1. Start with ground chuck in the 80/20 meat to fat ratio. If you use lean ground beef you will not end up with a juicy hamburger. Don't compromise on this step.

2. Break the meat up into chunks with two forks. You can do this right in the store foam tray.

3. Season the beef very well. I use salt, pepper, garlic salt, and just a touch of barbecue seasoning. Do not be shy about the seasoning, especially the salt. You will find you need more than you usually think you do. Just sprinkle the seasoning on the top of the chunks but do not stir it in.

4. Walk away. Far away. L et the meat stand 30-45 minutes or longer with the seasoning on it and don't touch it, no matter how tempted you are.

5. Preheat your skillet over medium high heat while you form the patties. Don't grill them. Use a skillet. Juicy, flavorful hamburgers depend on frying in their own fat to absorb the moisture and flavor. If you're on a diet, skip this post.

6. Gently form the meat into patties being careful not to overwork it. It should just barely be held together. Poke five or six holes in the patty with your finger, then place in the preheated skillet. Put the patty where you want it because you cannot move it once you set it in the pan.

7. Reduce the heat to medium low and allow the patties to cook until the edges begin to turn brown but the top is still pink.

8. Turn the patties over gently. Reduce the heat to low and cover the pan. Let the patties cook for a few minutes until the juice running out is clear.

9. Slap some cheese on those babies, cover the pan, and then turn the heat off. Continue preparing your side dishes while the burgers sit.

10. By the time your side dishes are done, the burgers will be too. If your cheese is very soft you may want to wait to put it on the burgers until the last minute.

Experiment with seasonings and your stove temperature. It may take a few tries to get it exactly the way you like it, but believe me when I say it is worth the effort!