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Appetizer, Bread, Cheese, Gluten Free, Vegetables

Gouda, Sofrito and Habanero Fondue

bread dipped in fondue 20151224-_MG_3574.CR2

Gouda, Sofrito and Habanero Fondue

Do you need a great appetizer, party dip, or something fun for dinner on these cold winter nights? I have just the ticket: Gouda, Sofrito and Habanero Fondue.

Our family tradition on Christmas eve is to sit in front of a roaring wood fire and fix a variety of fondues for dinner. One item on the menu never changes: we take a 8” piece of aged filet that we rub all over with lots of salt and throw on the hot embers below the fire. This year we threw a lobster tail with butter and lemon in the coals too. Both were fantastic. I’ll tell you how to do this in another blog.

Over the years we’ve tried a variety of ingredients for the fondues. One of our favorites is Gouda with Sofrito and Habanero Fondue.

chili prociutto onions 20151224-_MG_3543.CR2

A sofrito is typically a mixture of onions, peppers, ham and garlic. With slight variations, it is the basis of many traditional Spanish, Caribbean and Latin American cooking. The sofrito gives these cuisines a depth of flavor. The bold flavors of the sofrito and hot peppers contrast beautifully with the smooth Gouda.

We make the fondues on the stove in heavy-bottom pots and bring it directly to the table. We don’t use special fondue pots for the cheese fondue. Early in the morning I go to the Village Baking Company, a wonderful boulangerie in Dallas, and pick out rye, multigrain and sourdough loaves. With the filet, lobster, and breads cut into bite-sized pieces, speared on a skewer and dipped in the fondues, the result is a rich, soul satisfying combination of creamy melted cheese, rich beef, briny lobster and the hit of just the right amount of heat. If you want this to be gluten free and/or want to add vegetables, try dipping bell peppers, mushrooms, and cherry tomatoes in this creamy, spicy fondue!

Gouda, Sofrito and Habanero Fondue

Serves 4 to 6 for dinner, more as an appetizer


2T          olive oil

½ lb        Gouda cheese, grated

½ lb        Monterey Jack cheese with habanero, grated

1T          cornstarch

4 oz        prosciutto or smoked ham, finely chopped

2             scallions, finely chopped. Use both white and green parts.

1             red bell pepper, finely chopped

1             jalapeno, minced. Use less for less spicy heat

1             garlic clove, minced

1t            fresh oregano, minced or ½ t dried

1t            fresh thyme, minced or ½ t dried

¾ c         lager beer, you can use gluten free beer or ale

1T          cider vinegar



 Medium bowl, grater, heavy bottom medium saucepan or an enameled pot, wooden spoon, measuring cup and spoons.


grated Gouda 20151224-_MG_3537.CR2

Toss cheese and cornstarch together in the medium bowl.

Sauté the prosciutto, scallions, red bell pepper, habanero, garlic, oregano and thyme in the saucepan until the onion is golden. Keep an eye on the garlic so it does not burn.

fondue in the pot 20151224-_MG_3571.CR2

Add the beer and vinegar. Bring the liquid to a simmer then add the cheese a handful at a time, letting each handful melt before adding another.

I use a medium-sized enamel pot and I just leave the fondue in it to serve. If you have a ceramic fondue pot with a candle, use it!

Note: You can use all Gouda cheese and substitute 2t of finely chopped habanero for the jalapeno.

 I serve it with different breads like rye, sourdough, and multigrain. When cutting the bread into bite-sized pieces, try to have every piece have a bit of crust so it is not too soft to dip.

 Be careful when you chop any hot chili. The oil in the chili will stay on your hands even after washing so don’t rub your eyes.





Bread, Desserts, Fruit, Great Gift Ideas, Snack, Treats

Melissa’s Banana Bread – the best!

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Melissa’s Banana Bread – the best banana bread!

I love banana bread. I’ve tried all sorts of recipes and have concluded that finding a great banana bread is hard to do. Sometimes they are too sweet and often they don’t pack a bold banana flavor. I lost my favorite banana bread recipe years ago and I’ve been looking for another one ever since.

Melissa’s Banana Bread is the best I’ve ever eaten.   Sometimes the memory of a really great meal is not just the flavor of the food but is colored by where you were and the people you were with. You’ve had that experience of trying a recipe for the second time because it was so good the first time (and the meal or party was really fun) and it just didn’t taste the same, haven’t you?

The first time I had Melissa’s Banana Bread was aboard the 28’ Beneteau, Booty-Ful, in the Harvest Moon Regatta. This annual race is from Galveston to Port Aransas and takes about 24 hours to complete. We hit the start line perfectly at 2pm. Tom, the captain, put Booty-Ful on a broad reach about a mile off the Texas coast. Just after dark the wind picked up unexpectedly so we sailed into the evening with eight foot waves crashing over the boat. Booty-Ful held her course but with the tossing and crashing of the waves, no one wanted the dinner I had prepared. Instead, we dined on Melissa’s Banana Bread because it was a perfect balance of sweet banana while being easy on the stomach. See the Harvest Moon Regatta – the Voyage of the Booty-Ful for more.

I asked for the recipe, made it, and found that it was as good as I remembered, even without the saltwater and the excitement. I tried making the recipe three ways: according to Melissa’s recipe, adding a few tablespoons of banana liquor and with fried plantains. The recipe really did not need the extras. Melissa’s Banana Bread is perfect just as is.

Tip: Grill or toast it for breakfast.

Melissa’s Banana Bread – the Best Banana Bread Ever


2 ½ c    all purpose flour

1 tsp      salt – I use Morton’s Kosher salt

2 tsp     baking powder

1 c         coconut oil

1¾ c     sugar

2 c         bananas, very ripe, mashed – about 6

4            eggs, slightly beaten

1 c       chopped pecans, coarsely chopped


2 medium loaf pans, measuring cups, measuring spoons, one small bowl, two medium bowls, a fork, a wooden spoon, and a toothpick or skewer.


Preheat oven to 350F.

Grease and flour two medium loaf pans.

Mash the bananas with your fork in the small bowl. Beat the eggs together in a medium bowl just until the white and yolks are blended. Stir in the coconut oil, sugar, mashed bananas and pecans. Mix all the remaining dry ingredients together in a bowl with a spoon. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir until the batter is just blended.

banana bread ingredients 20115-_MG_3131.CR2

Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pans and bake for

55-60 minutes. Insert the skewer into the loaf. If the skewer comes out clean, your banana bread is done.

Allow the bread to cool in the pan for 5 minutes then turn the bread out onto a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.

Bread, On the Water, Shrimp, Travel

Harvest Moon Regatta, Voyage of the Booty-Ful

crew of the Booty Ful

Crew of the Booty-Ful , at the finish of the Harvest Moon Regatta,

I figured out long ago that if I volunteered to be the boat’s cook, I’d usually get invited back to sail again. This happened again, but it turned out to be one of those times that Mother Nature flexed her muscles and things did not work out as expected.

The Harvest Moon Regatta is about 24 hours of continuous racing off the Texas coast from Galveston to Port Aransas. We left the dock in Kemah at sunrise and motor-sailed to the starting line off Galveston for our 2pm start. It was a beautiful day. The winds were picking up a bit as the sun rose. Just perfect.

Leaving Booty-Ful's home port in Kehma TX at dawn to reach the startline near Galveston by 2pm

Leaving Booty-Ful’s home port in Kemah, TX at dawn to reach the starting line near Galveston

I wanted the pre-start lunch to be special so I made popovers stuffed with shrimp salad. A popover creates a perfect pocket for all sorts of stuffings – you can hold it in one hand and half of the stuffing doesn’t fall out onto the deck like it would with a regular sandwich. Perfect if you have to do things while you are eating.

shrimp salad_MG_8806.CR2

Shrimp Salad with a Popover

At 28′ Booty-Ful was the smallest boat in the racing fleet. The largest boat was 75′.  86 boats competed and 25 of those boats did not finish the race.  Because of the large number of boats, the fleet was divided into groups of six boats.  Each group was given a specific start time.  Our group hit the starting line at 2pm.

We managed to get a perfect start and away we sailed. Tom, our captain, chose to sail about a mile off shore. As evening approached we held a good direct line to the turning mark on a broad reach almost all the way to Port Aransas. At night, all boats turned on their running lights (a white light at the top of the mast with red and green lights lower down).  You could see the other boats’ lights which looked liked stars: a few sprinkled around us and more between our boat and the shore. We were ahead of all but one boat in our group and passed a few boats that started before us.

As the sun set the wind freshened (blew harder) and before we knew it we needed to put on foul weather gear. The wind increased and waves started to break over the bow sometimes. We were wearing our life lines, which are very strong bungie cord-like lines that attach our PFDs (life jackets) to the boat so no one goes overboard. The boat was pitching so much that you could not stay below standing up. I tried to make roast beef sandwiches and ended up not being able to stand up in the galley. At times when I grabbed the handrails near the ceiling, the floor was at such a crazy angle that I couldn’t get my feet on it! The pitching nauseated most of us who went below. I had planned meals that could be put together quickly with no cooking but the pitching made it too difficult to get to the cooler and put together  the simplest of meals.  On deck everyone was fine, if wet. Melissa, one of the boat owners, came up with a solution for the nausea – she had peppermint oil which we rubbed on the back of our necks. This cured the nausea in minutes!

With the wind blowing stink and wave heights reaching 8′ for a good part of the night, I tried to nap by the side stays, curling up on the walkway between the safety line and the cabin.  The waves would crash over the boat every few minutes so I only dozed a bit.  Several of us took turns at the helm.  I could only drive for about 30 minutes because of the strength needed to sail the proper course with the wind and waves.

Luckily Melissa had made the best banana bread I’ve ever eaten, which really saved us. Easy to eat and slightly sweet, it was perfect for delicate stomachs. Add in a few bags of chips for the salt, of course, and you had our bad weather menu.

Melissa’s Banana Bread


My dinner plans of rare roast beef and boursin in challah buns, with fruit and Nutella to be served in mugs for breakfast … all got eaten on the calm sail back to Booty-Ful’s home port north of Galveston.

As the unexpected storm blew in, quite a few boats turned back.  Although she was the smallest boat, Booty-Ful sailed straight and true, finishing well up in the middle of the pack. Small and Fierce we christened her. What a great crew and boat!

Bread, Drinks, Fish, Fruit, Pork, Travel

Sailing from Grenada to St. Vincent

6-May-08_101652-547x364The idea for this blog began with cooking on a sailboat.  My last trip was in May 2015. Here are some highlights of that trip.

Several girlfriends and I chartered a 42-foot sailboat out of True Blue Bay in Grenada and sailed up through the Grenadines to St. Vincent and back. It was a windy, sun drenched, wild ride among verdant islands.

We left our spouses at home, wanting to test our knowledge and skills as sailors. We laughed a lot and held our breath as the 30-knot winds (about 35 mph) from the East slid up the windward side of the volcanic spines of the islands, then rushed down the valleys to slam into our boat, Chinook. The wind roared around the tips of the islands creating a mishmash of wind, tide and current. At one point we took pictures of the speedometer as Chinook approached hull speed (the top speed for the boat) with the main double-reefed. Each reef in the sail depowers the sail to make it easier to control the boat in high winds. It was grand.

20151008-_MG_2444.CR2 Map of Grenada sailing trip-2444

The voyage of the Chinook – the first two weeks

My daughter and one of her best friends were on a big sailboat with me for the first time.  Their eyes got a little large as we occasionally heeled over with the side rail near the water and as we sailed up and over 10 ft swells. They were great crew and no one was sick!  Now, the true test is will they go with me again.

Chinook’s galley – a very small space!

With the winds (unusually high for that time of the year) staying between 20 and 30 knots for the first two weeks, it was almost impossible to use the grill. The galley (kitchen on a boat) stove had two burners, a small oven and a very good refrigerator – not always the case on a chartered boat. I had taken my bag of herbs and spices and Debbie, fabulous first mate, brought the sharp knives. Those, with a few favorite utensils that I carted along,  made up my travel supplies. The list will be in my next blog.

20151008-_MG_1571 Scones on Chinook -1571

Scones still hot from the oven with Mama’s local honey, nutmeg jelly and pepper jelly.

The crew ‘s special breakfast treat.

The second week, a very experienced sailor, Stephanie, joined us at St. Vincent and the two girls flew back home.  Debbie and I were thankful she joined us because we started hearing a strange thumping sound that she identified as the nut on the rudder about to fall off.  Although we had a good assortment of tools, nothing was big enough for this job.  We made an evacuation plan, putting the most essential items in three small dry bags (charts, compass, passports, money, credit cards, water, cell phones that worked everywhere, sun block …).  Our charter company directed us to Union Island for repairs which was a few hours sail.  Of course, a thunderstorm came up and pelted us with stinging drops as we came screaming into Clifton Harbor.  We waited until the storm had passed and moored.  Help came out immediately and fixed the boat.

Grenada is one of the “spice islands,” rich with nutmeg, bay, cinnamon and wonderful chocolate. I built my menus around fresh fish, great breads, luscious seasonal fruit and chocolate.  The Grenadian nutmeg chocolate is a special favorite of mine.  We made a nutmeg chocolate souffle with only three ingredient that is super easy.  The recipe is coming in a post soon.

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photo by Guinevere Bell

Cacao pod: where chocolate comes from

Grenada and Bequia had the best stores for provisioning and had most of what we wanted. On Union Island we bought freshly caught tuna.

Before these trips I eagerly anticipate the surprises we find each time we charter in a new place. I never have any idea what I’ll find (or not be able to find), which is always the greatest challenge for the cook on the boat. What surprised me on this trip was a glorious variety of fruits, including mango, papaya, pineapple, pears and wonderful tomatoes!

The biggest culinary surprise was the bread: freshly made loaves on several islands and baguettes and croissants that were flaky and buttery on Bequia.

Not finding on Grenada the main ingredient for that quintessential summer drink, the Pimms Cup,  we had a treasure hunt for Pimms No. 1, a British gin-based liqueur, at every port of call. We finally discover a half bottle behind the bar at Lourdis on the island of Carriacou in Hamilton Bay. While there we also found that the jerk chicken at Lourdis will scald your mouth – but is delicious!

20150516-_IMG_0659 pimms bottle.jpg-0659

photo by Sebastian Duffell

THE BEST FOOD we had was in the Tobago Cays, a National Marine Park in the middle of the Grenadines. Most people call the Tobago Cays the jewels of the Grenadines. The Cays are three very small islands with miles of reefs and a turtle sanctuary, which makes this an excellent area for snorkeling and diving. The tiny pristine islands have white beaches, big lizards, and lots of birds. We saw scores of small brilliant reef fish, enough starfish to light the heavens, and rays and turtles of all sizes.

photo by Guinevere Bell

photo by Guinevere Bell

photo by Guinevere Bell

photo by Guinevere Bell

photo by Sebastian

photo by Sebastian Duffell


As we sailed into the narrow entrance to the cays, we were greeted by a floating concierge fleet, with men in small, brightly-colored motor boats offering mooring help, various provisions and “beach barbeques.” The men in the boats go by monikers. Our charter company had said to look for Romeo but we did not find him. Instead, Lady Luck was with us and Kojak offered us help mooring (by then, the wind had freshened and I wanted a mooring ball for one night). We accepted his help and his offer to have a lobster barbeque on the beach. This was the last day of the lobster season, we were not going to pass that up. The beach cooks share several large tents which cover grills. Regardless of who was cooking for you, you shared six or seven picnic tables. That day in May (which is low season), we were only one of four groups having dinner. I can’t imagine the pandemonium this place must be in during the high season with 30 or more boats moored and countless guys offering their wares and their help!



That evening was perfection, with the sun setting, the beach glistening white, the beer cold, the rum punch strong, and the smell of grilled lobster beyond enticing. Kojak and his wife prepared a feast to make your heart stop with buttery grilled lobster, fried plantain, rice and potatoes. The dessert, banana bread, was one of the best I’ve ever had. It was truly a dinner to match the magnificent scenery. They fixed dinner for us again on our return trip, but instead of lobster, we had fish and tender conch, which rivaled the lobster – and that’s saying a lot for conch!

The third week of our adventure my dear friend, chef and sailor Audrey and her son Sebastian, joined me.  As a young woman, Audrey had sailed across the Atlantic and lived on Palm Island, sailing charters for her father.  It’s a small world and many of the people she knew were still legends in the area.


Audrey’s tuna sashimi

The wind dropped to its normal range of 10 to 15 knots for this last leg of the journey.  With Audrey aboard we feasted every day. Look back at the picture of the galley.  Audrey would take one burner and I the other fixing sautéed vegetables and pan seared pork in a rum sauce.

THE MOST UNUSUAL FOOD we had was a mangrove oyster.


Mangrove oyster

In Tyrell Bay on Carriacou, the site of the customs office, a man called Warrior paddled a small rowboat up to our boat.


Most of what he had we did not need. Then he asked me if I’d ever tried mangrove oysters. I had never heard of them. Early the next morning he brought several dozen mangrove oysters for us to try. They are small briny bivalves with a tart buttery flavor.

THE BEST ISLAND for traipsing around and shopping on was Bequia, a funky island with a corniche for strolling that offers interesting art shops, a dive shop and several good restaurants. Just a short walk away from the water are artists’ galleries and workshops worth the walk.

20150516-_MG_1653 reaturant on Bequia.jpg-1653

Doris’ is a great place for provisioning. It’s on a back street and is easy to miss. She offers many goods from the US and England, a good wine selection, interesting canned goods if you are homesick, as well as fruits, fresh vegetables and frozen foods in the back. I bought frozen chocolate croissants to surprise the crew for breakfast since the bakery was only open on Mondays during the slow season.

Grenada and the Grenadines are beautiful islands which are well worth the trip, whether you’re sailing there or just visiting. Recipes from some of our great meals will be coming soon.

Biscuits, Bread, Quick Jams

Lavender and Lemon Scones with Raspberry Jam

Homemade lavender and lemon scones with raspberry jam on your table in about 30 minutes, still warm from your oven. Oh yes!

This scone recipe is a gem. My husband is from Ireland, where, for a Texan, regardless of the time of year, it is always somewhere between chilly and downright cold. But the tea is hot and strong and the pastries grand. I don’t think I will ever make a loaf of soda bread as well as my mother-in-law, Mae. So, I’ve concentrated on making a great scone. There is one shop in Collooney in County Sligo that has the best scones I’ve ever had. I’ve been trying for years to get the crumbly lightness, rise and flavor of those scones when I make mine. With this recipe I think I’m almost there – even the dough is so good it is hard not to sample a bite or three as you’re rolling it out.

Today I timed myself to make sure I could actually make and serve lavender and lemon scones with freshly made raspberry jam in around 30 minutes. And I did. So, on your marks, get set, cook!

Lavender & Lemon Scones with Raspberry Jam

Turn your oven on at 350F degrees.

Raspberry Jam

Quick, simple & delicious


1c fresh raspberries

1c white granulated sugar

1t lemon zest (optional)


A wide shallow ovenproof pan that will hold the amount of raspberries you use.

20150729 Rasberries in sugar jam_MG_1034.CR2

Mix equal parts fresh raspberries (1 cup) and white granulated sugar (1 cup) and the lemon zest in a wide shallow dish. Put the berry mix in the 350F oven for about 20 minutes. You want the mix very hot but not boiling. I set a timer so I don’t forget to check the jam after 10 minutes just to make sure it isn’t boiling. After 20 min, pour into a bowl and stir to make sure the sugar has melted. Note: This jam is runny – somewhat like a syrup.

Lavender & Lemon Scones

While you are cooking the raspberries, start on the scones. As the jam comes out of the oven, your scones will be ready to go in. This recipe makes 12 small scones.


2c white, all purpose flour

1T baking powder

¼ c granulated white sugar

2T lemon zest, approx. 2 medium-sized lemons

pinch of salt

4T cold butter, cut into ½ inch pieces

1 ½ tsp dried lavender or 2 tsp of fresh lavender

3/4c milk, cold

1 egg beaten with 1 tsp warm water to brush the top of the scones

Heat oven to 425 F


1 medium to large bowl, 1 fine sieve, a 1c measuring cup, 1T measuring spoon, 1/4c measuring cup, 1 t measuring spoon, 1 liquid measuring cup, small bowl to mix the glaze, pastry creamer or two knives to mix the butter into the flour, a 2” cookie cutter, a rolling pin (optional), and a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.

Sift the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt into the large bowl. Add the lemon zest and gently stir the lavender in. Add the butter pieces and use the pastry creamer or knives to cut the butter into the flour. You can also use the tips of your fingers and mash the flour into the butter. If you use your fingers, work quickly because you don’t want the heat from your hands to melt the butter. If you have a food processor, you can use it for this step but be careful to only pulse the motor 3 to 4 times. The flour/butter mix should resemble coarse meal when done.

Make a well in the center of the flour/butter mixture and pour in the milk all at once. Lightly hand-mix the flour and milk by stiffening five fingers in the mixture, then turning the bowl and moving your fingers in a spiral from the center of the bowl out. In a few seconds you should have the dough loosely gathered into a ball. Again, if you are using a food processor, only pulse it 3 to 4 times. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work area. Scrape the dough off your fingers and gather the dough into a ball.

The whole purpose of working with the dough as little as possible is to keep the scones light and crumbly.

Pat or roll the dough out to a 1” thickness. Cut the dough into 2” rounds with your cookie cutter. Don’t forget to dip the cookie cutter in flour so the dough doesn’t stick to it. Be careful to go straight down and up with the cutter without twisting. This will help your scones to rise.

Biscuit Dough

Place the cut-out scones on the cookie sheet. Beat the egg with 2 tsp of warm water or milk. Brush the tops of the scones with the egg glaze. Bake in the hot oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown on top. Cool on a wire rack.

Whew! That’s all there is to it.

Sometimes I like to dip the top of the glazed scones in granulated sugar just before baking. It adds a lovely crunch.

Additional ideas for flavorings:

  • ½ heaping cup of blueberries, ½ teaspoon almond essence, 2T lemon or lime zest
  • 2T finely grated orange rind. I’ll also add 1T – 2T citrus peel
  • 4T raisins
  • 3T dried cherries
  • 1 ½ t cinnamon added to the flour before you mix in the butter. Mix ½ t of cinnamon into ¼ c of sugar to glaze the top.
  • 3T finely chopped crystallized ginger.

Today I used the same recipe and substituted ½ heaping cup of blueberries for the lavender, lime for the lemon and buttermilk for the milk. When you do this, treat the blueberries gently. If they get smashed, your scones will have a grayish tint.