Friday, January 29, 2016

More Winter Soup - Minestrone

Another hearty, warming soup for the cold weather is minestrone.  We enjoy two versions (and modify/combine/enhance, based on the ingredients we find):  Winter Minestrone from Giada De Laurentis and Hunter's Minestrone from Tyler Florence.

Minestrone is thick, made with seasonal vegetables and, often, beans and/or pasta .  For a hearty, winter minestrone, we also add meat:  pancetta, pork sausage, or ground beef are favorites.

Stock Base:  Start (again) with several quarts of chicken/duck stock, simmering initially in a large saucepan with a halved  head of garlic to infuse a great garlic taste.  After about 15 minutes, discard the garlic and keep the broth warm for what comes next.

Meat and Vegetables:  In a large saucepan, heat olive oil with sage, rosemary and thyme for a few minutes (more infusion!).  Then add the meat, two to three hot Italian sausages with the casing removed (diced pancetta or ground beef are also good alternatives), and cook until well browned.  Add the vegetables, at least  rough-chopped carrots, celery, and onions, with a minced garlic clove or two, and cook with the meat until the vegetables are softened. 

 Stock, sausage, tomatoes, vegetables, beans

At this point, we could also add potatoes (a cubed russet potato works great) or leafy greens such as Swiss Chard, cabbage, or escarole, but I find these a distraction today and leave them out.

To the meat and vegetable mixture, add a large (28 oz.) can of hand-crushed San Marzano tomatoes, a similar amount of cannelloni beans and the stock  Simmer for about 15 minutes while cooking the pasta.

Add the beans and tomatoes

Pasta:  Rigatoni, mezzi rigatoni, or smaller pasta such as ditalini, conchigliette, pipette or elbow macaroni are all a good choice for minestrone, and we've come to enjoy mezzi rigatoni as it's readily available at our local Safeway and has a small size, but a cylindrical shape to capture hearty parts of the soup inside.  Cook the pasta until slightly al dente.

 Getting close: prepare the pasta, croutons in the back ready for broiling

Add the pasta to the soup, give it all a few quick stirs, and serve with -fresh-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and a fresh baguette.

All together and we're done

Another great touch is to float croutons on  top of the soup.  Take a few slices off the baguette, sprinkle them with some of the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and pop them under the broiler for a few minutes.  Add on top of the soup. Wonderful!

Leftovers for another meal and to give away to friends

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Soup in Winter - Italian Wedding Soup

Ok, we finally accept that winter is here, the holidays are over, and there are no more trips to warm places.  We must adapt to the cold, humid weather.

That means soup!  Hearty soup!

The top of our list is Italian Wedding Soup, a triumvirate of meatballs, pasta, and green vegetables.  Our favorite is a recipe by Ina Garten, called, oddly enough, Italian Wedding Soup.

According to Wikipedia, the "wedding soup" refers to the combination of the meatballs, pasta, and green vegetables, a great "marriage" of ingredients.  There are many variations and combinations of the three and we use what we find in the market today.

Meatballs:  Ina Garten recommends ground chicken and chicken sausage, which we don't find, but Barrons Meat and Seafood in the Alameda Marketplace has fresh white and dark ground turkey.   Three-quarters of a pound of each is mixed with bread crumbs, garlic, parsley, Pecorino and Parmesan cheeses, milk, egg, and salt/pepper.  Roll 1-inch meatballs out of the mixture and bake them for 1/2 hour until brown and cooked through.  We have to sample and several don't make it to the final soup.

Soup base, turkeyballs, spinach, pasta - some assembly required

Soup Base:  Sautée a minced onion with diced carrots and celery in olive oil until soft, then add 2-3 quarts of homemade chicken/duck stock that was prepared last weekend from a leftover Safeway roasted chicken carcass (consumed for sandwiches during the week) and duck leg bones from the weekend's duck ragu.

The stock is made by simmering the leftover chicken and duck bones and scraps in 3-4 quarts of water along with whatever vegetables and herbs are handy (onions, carrots, celery, mushrooms, garlic, bay leaves, parsley,  rosemary, thyme, and black peppercorns) for 3-4 hours.  Pour through a strainer, et voilà

Pasta:  Bring the soup base mixture to a boil, add the pasta and cook a few minutes until tender.  The pasta should be small, such as the tubetini, stars, cavatelli, orzo, pastina or acini di pepe.  Today, we find orzo, which works great!

Add  the meatballs/turkeyballs along with fresh dill and simmer for a minute or two.

Green Vegetables:  Flavor to taste with salt an pepper, then add the green vegetables, in this case, 3/4-1 pound of baby spinach (alternatively, swiss chard, broccoli rabe, endive, escarole, kale, or cabbage) and cook another minute.

Soup assembled

Serve in bowls, along with grated Parmesan cheese.  What a great, warming, wholesome meal!

Leftovers for another day

Friday, January 22, 2016

Day Two in Bequia

We head the beach for swimming and kayaking.  The Wind Star tender drops us off on the pier, next to the wharf where the ferries travel frequently back and forth to Kingstown, St. Vincent, about 16km  (10 miles) away.  We again follow the Belmont Walkway around the harbor to Princess Margaret Beach.

 Ferries loading up

 Back on Princess Margaret Beach

Today, after a hour-long swim up and down the beach, we decide to kayak.

 Both of us out on kayaks

But, we're really waiting for lunch so that we can try the famous lobster pizza at Mac's, around the middle of the Belmont Walkway.

 Turn right at the sign and head up to Mac's Pizzaria

There are only a few tables on the patio where the pizza is served, but the view is fabulous.

 View from our table at Mac's

Yes, they have other pizzas, but the specialty is lobster pizza and we have to have it!

 Lower right - Lobster Pizza!

Lobster pizza in all its glory, accompanied by Hairoun beer

We waddle back to the pier, hop on the last tender to the ship, and return to Barbados to end another great journey.  We do, however, bring back two slices for the Captain, who had told us the day before that he had never tried lobster pizza.

 Rough winter seas heading back to Barbados

 After a brief squall, a double rainbow

It's time to head back to the real world, enjoy our memories, and plan the next sojourn.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

On to Bequia

We spend two beach days in Bequia (pronounced Beck-way), the second largest island in the Grenadines (7 square miles, with around 5,000 people).  We arrive in the afternoon, anchor in Admiralty Bay, one of the most protected natural harbors in the Caribbean, and head ashore into the Port Elizabeth waterfront.  The main street along the waterfront has a few vendors and restaurants, with a focus on pizza (more on that later).

Walking down the main street in Port Elizabeth

Taxi and bread/croissant/pizza delivery to your boat

And, what is main street without a few goats!

We're heading to Princess Margaret Beach, a 500-yeard stretch of sand with smooth, soft, white sand, great swimming, a small restaurant, and, in the middle, a vendor selling beer and soft drinks.  The path to the beach is a charming 10-15 minute walk along the harbor on the Belmont Walkway.

Belmont walkway

The walkway wanders past shops, houses, hotels, and across another beach before heading over the hill.
Along the waterfront and across the beach

 Up the hill and back down

Around the corner and there we are

Along the way, we pass the Bequia Coast Guard.

 Coast Guard

And, as we cross over the hill we get great views of Admiralty Bay.

 Admiralty Bay

Then, we arrive at Princess Margaret Beach and head into the water for some swimming and kayaking.

Princess Margaret beach

We swim, have a Hairoun beer (brewed on St. Vincent) or two each, and settle in for the rest of the day.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Tobago Cays, Southern Grenadines

We stop for the day in the Tobago Cays in St. Vincent and the Grenadines for snorkeling, beach wandering, and a day of leisure in a tropical paradise.  We anchor just outside the Tobago Cays Marine Park, just off Petit Rameau island.  The Park is a 50 sq. km, sand-bottom lagoon surrounded by a series of beaches and uninhabited islands.  We are here to explore the coral reefs, but will also keep our eyes open for sea turtles who nest in the Park.


We transfer from our sailing cruise ship, the Wind Star, to the Sky Flirt, an 85-foot catamaran, to get over to the reefs that hold great fish sighting for us.

Transfer by small raft to the Sky Flirt

Sky Flirt waiting for us to come on board

Sky Flirt is operated by Wind and Sea, located in Bougainvilla on Union Island in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.  Union Island is about 200 km (125 miles) west of Barbados and directly north of Grenada.

We sail around the island and anchor near the reef.

 Coral reefs from above

In one stretch where the current is strong, the Sky Flirt drops us off on one side of the beach, we snorkel over, cross the beach, and snorkel the other side back to the Sky Flirt, which has moved.

The beach is quiet before we get there

Minions crossing
Snorkeling back to the boat after crossing

As we all waddle across the beach in the mask, fins, snorkels, and yellow vests, some poor woman who previously had the beach to herself for topless sunbathing looks aghast as the minions waddle across and head back into the water on the other side.

And, as we get back on the Sky Flirt, we spot a turtle.


The crew then treats us to rum punch, while the captain raises the sails and takes around the islands, before heading back to our ship.

 Serving rum punch while the Captain sails

Captain sails, crew checks email (modern times)

The islands in this area are beautiful, although most boats seem to anchor at the reef where we were snorkeling

 Beautiful, uninhabited, islands and beaches

Boats at anchor near the Tobago Cays Marine Park and reef

 Even a small storm passes by as we sail.

 We sail between more beautiful islands

Storm passing

But, now it is time to return to the mother ship and end another great day and a new adventure.

 Coming back to the Wind Star