Story and photography by Lori Ross
There is a lot of attention given to the art of preparing quick meals from scratch as evidenced by the success of Food Network’s 30 Minute Meals with Rachel Ray, and the countless cookbooks by renown chefs promising quick meals. While there is great appeal to quick cooked meals – at home and aboard -- as I read these cookbooks and watch these programs, I am often struck by the fact that these experienced chefs seem to have to rush through meal preparation to make the deadline. My ideal quick meal from scratch doesn’t require more than a well-stocked galley; it takes 15-20 minutes from refrigerator or shelf to table -- without the rushing breathlessness of Rachel Ray -- and it tastes like it took me much longer than that to make!
Most of my quick cooking aboard experience comes from years of seeking to avoid seasickness on sail and powerboats that were not blessed with stabilizers. In those days, I sought to spend as little time as possible in the galley, especially if we were underway or in a choppy anchorage, or I would succumb to immobilizing nausea!. Today, with the miracle of stabilizers, I am rarely uncomfortable, so cooking fast meals aboard usually results from my laziness or failure to plan in time to feed a hungry crew! Often I simply look around at what I’ve got and try to make something out of it as quickly as possible that everyone will enjoy! While we all know how to make quick work of breakfast and lunch, dinner is the most challenging meal to create in 15 to 20 minutes.
There are provisioning and cooking rules I follow to ensure I can actually pull off dinner in a short time. First, I tend to provision with foods that cook quickly (e.g. boneless chicken breasts rather than whole chicken; steaks instead of roasts; quick cooking starches like couscous, instant polenta, converted rice and pasta rather than long cooking rice, polenta or potatoes). Second, I keep a running list of all the ingredients I have aboard and where they are stored, so I don’t have to spend valuable time hunting around to see what I have or where it is! Finally, I stick with simple recipes that require just a few ingredients rather than experimenting with a dish that has a long list of steps and seasonings.
The 4 step formula for a 15 -20 minute dinner in my galley is as follows:
1. I select a piece of meat, poultry, fish or seafood (or for vegetarian meals, quick cooking legumes like canned beans or split peas and lentils, pasta or grains or vegetables), fresh or frozen, as the centerpiece of the meal, (and, if frozen, I defrost it in the microwave for 3-5 minutes. Centerpieces include:
boneless chicken breasts
small tenderloin, rib or sirloin steaks (4-8 oz)
lamb rib or loin chops
pork tenderloin sliced into medallions 1” or less
ground meat (hamburger, lamb, chicken or turkey)
thin sliced veal (scallopine)
boneless fish filets
shellfish such as shrimp, scallops, squid, clams or mussels
2. I choose a vegetable and/or a starch for salad and/or side dish. For salads, I prefer to bring washed and bagged lettuces, bags of shredded cabbage and carrots. For vegetable side dishes I often buy prepared veggies (washed spinach in bags, baby carrots, sugar snap peas, trimmed green beans, broccoli or cauliflower) or I try to peel and prepared vegetables before I get to the boat (e.g. radishes, celery, broccoli) or I pick out veggies that are quick to prepare and cook such as: asparagus and cucumbers (I never peel them); endive, fennel, tomatoes, spring onions, peppers, tomatoes, and zucchini or summer squash). That way, the veggies and salads take up less room in the fridge, result in less waste and make preparing a meal quick as a wink.
Similarly, the grains and starches I have aboard generally cook in less than 10 minutes and include: couscous, rice noodles, thin Chinese wheat noodles, bulghur, instant polenta, quinoa and orzo. I also like frozen or fresh pasta (tortellini, ravioli, linguine, angel hair) because they all cook in 8-10 minutes – and during that time you can make salads or sides and cook the main course.
3. Use a quick cooking technique to cook the main course or side dish:.
- Sauteing, broiling or grilling - The quickest and most delicious cooking technique for most meats, poultry, shellfish and fish, in my view are sautéing on the stove top or broiling. Grilling tastes great but I often forget to make time to preheat the grill and I am not always able to grill due to weather or marina rules.
- Boiling and poaching – The best way to cook vegetables and to keep them moist and tasty is to boil, steam or poach them on the stovetop or in the microwave. In fact, I prefer the microwave because the veggies steam in their own juices and maintain a lovely, bright color. Boiling uses a lot of water. while poaching uses a little water at low heat to cook veggies. I like poaching for delicate vegetables like asparagus or peas. Top the vegetables off with a little olive oil and lemon or a simple sauce of butter with ginger, garlic or herbs for a delicious side dish.
1. Stick to fresh or dried fruit, cheeses, nuts or store bought baked goods or frozen treats for dessert.
What follows are several dinner menus that can be prepared in 15-20 minutes. Feel free to vary the ingredients and flavorings to suit your taste and enjoy!
1. Quick Tuscan Dinner for 4
Simple Antipasto Salad with Bread
Pasta with Sage Butter (or pesto)
Fresh Fruit in Grappa
Pasta with sage butter
1 lb. dried or fresh pasta (e.g. cheese tortellini, spinach linguine, spaghetti)
12 fresh sage leaves*
½ stick of salted butter (2 oz).
1 oz. shredded parmesan cheese (or more to taste)
Salt and pepper to taste
If using dried pasta, bring two quarts of salted water to a boil and cook 1 lb. of pasta for 8-10 minutes until al dente. If using fresh pasta, bring two quarts of water to a boil and cook 1 lb. pasta for 5-6 minutes (until pasta rises to the top of the pot).
Meanwhile, melt butter in sauce pan and add whole sage leaves, turning burner to low and cooking for 4-5 minutes. Drain pasta and toss well with butter and sage sauce, salt and pepper to taste and serve. Add grated parmesan cheese to taste.
*If you don’t have fresh sage leaves, use prepared pesto sauce instead. Simply cook and drain pasta and toss well with prepared pesto. Salt and pepper to taste and add grated cheese if you wish.
Arrange on a platter:
8 slices salami or proscuitto or ham (optional if you
8 slices of provolone, parmesan, pecorino or other aged flavorful cheese
8 marinated artichoke hearts (drained) sliced in half lengthwise
20 thin slices of roasted red pepper (from a jar)
20 green or black olives
Drizzle platter with 1 tsp olive oil and ½ tsp of balsamic or red wine vinegar. Season with pepper and salt. Serve with a loaf of Italian bread and let each person serve themselves.
Fresh Fruit in grappa
Use 4 cups of one type or many types of fruit in season (e.g. berries, stone fruit, melon, apples, pears, citrus). Cut into bite size pieces (if necessary) and place in shallow bowl. Drizzle 1 oz. grappa or other brandy over the fruit and marinate during dinner. Serve in shallow bowls with spoons and offer your guests sugar, cream or ice cream to top off fruit (if you wish).
2. French Bistro Supper for 4
Green salad with goat cheese and honey
Sauteed Apples with Cream or Ice Cream
4 Four to six-oz. tenderloin, sirloin or rib steaks cut 1” thick
Salt and black pepper
4 tbsps butter
6 tbsps finely minced shallots or onions
2 oz. cognac or other good brandy
4 tbsps dry white wine or dry vermouth
4 tsps Dijon mustard
4 tbsps A-1 steak sauce
1 cup beef broth
4 tbsps heavy cream (optional)
4 tbsps finely snipped chives or 2 T. dried chives
Pound the steaks lightly to flatten them to 1/2-inch thick. Season them liberally on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat a 12-inch skillet until hot, add half the butter. When melted , add the steaks and cook on high for 1-2 minutes on each side or until lightly browned. Remove meat to a plate and adjust the heat to low.
Add the second tbsp of butter and the shallots. Saute the shallots for 1 minute. Increase the heat to high. Add the cognac, wine, and with a wooden spoon, scrape up any browning in the pan. Stir in the mustard and A-1 sauce. Cook for 1-2 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced to a syrup. Add the broth and continue to boil for about a minute, until reduced to a few tbsps. Add the cream and stir well to incorporate. Boil a few seconds. Taste for seasoning and add freshly ground pepper to taste. Stir in the chives, and add the reserved steaks and their juices to the simmering sauce. Turn the steaks in the sauce a couple of times reducing the sauce a little more. Place the steaks on individual plates. Divide the sauce on the steaks. Serve with some bread to mop up the sauce.
Green Salad with Honeyed Goat Cheese
4 cups lettuce leaves (romaine or butter lettuce or mesclun)
4 oz. goat cheese spread evenly on 8 slices french bread
1 tbsp of honey
1 tbsps sherry vinegar
6 tbsps olive oil
Wash and dry lettuce leaves, toss with vinegar and oil, then salt and pepper to taste; divide among 4 salad plates. Broil bread topped with goat cheese in oven for 2-3 minutes until cheese is warmed and place 2 on each plate. Drizzle cheese with honey and serve.
Cut 4 unpeeled apples into bite sized chunks, melt 2 tbsps of butter in a pan. When melted, add apples and cook on medium-low for 5 minutes until some of the apple pieces are golden. Remove from heat, divined amontg4 bowls and top with whipped cream, yogurt, sour cream or heavy cream and sugar to taste. Serve with port, brandy or calvados.
3. Mediterranean Menu for 4
Veal scallopine with lemon and capers
Pasta with broccoli, garlic and crushed red pepper
Slice thinly 2 large or 4 small ripe tomatoes and a ball of fresh mozzarella. Alternate tomato and cheese slices on a plate and separate each layer with a basil leaf. Sprinkle with parsley and more basil, salt and pepper and drizzle with 1 T. olive oil and 1 tsp of balsamic vinegar. If you don’t have mozzarella, just slice a lemon and place thin slices between tomato slices.
Fresh pasta with broccoli, garlic and crushed red pepper
1 lb. pasta cooked and drained (follow package directions)
1 lb. broccoli, trimmed into florets
1 1/2 cups olive oil
10 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
salt to taste
Pine nuts (optional)
Blanch broccoli in the microwave by placing florets in a microwave safe bowl and covering it with plastic wrap. Microwave on high for 2 minutes. Drain and chop into bite sized chunks. Heat oil in a large skillet, add broccoli, garlic, red pepper flakes and sauté for 10 minutes. Add salt to taste. Pour cooked pasta into skillet, toss well; take off heat and sprinkle with cheese and pine nuts if you wish.
Veal scallopine with lemon and capers
4 pieces of thin sliced
2 -3 Tbsps olive oil
2 Tbsps flour
Salt and pepper
1 Tbsp capers
1 lemon halved
Heat skillet on high until hot and add 2 tbsps of olive oil. Dredge 4 veal slices in flour, salt and pepper; shake off excess flour, add to pan and cook for 1-2 minutes on each side until golden-brown. Add 1 Tbsp of olive oil, plus the capers and juice of 1 lemon in the pan; cook for 1-2 minutes more. Serve immediately, drizzling sauce onto veal.
4. Middle Eastern Vegetarian Feast
Tunisian Grated Carrot Salad
Moroccan 7-Vegetable Couscous
Moroccan Oranges with cinnamon
Tunisian Grated Carrot Salad
4-6 carrots peeled, trimmed and grated (or 8 oz. package of grated/shredded carrots)
2 Tbsps chopped parsley
1 clove garlic, finely minced
½ tsp harissa* or hot pepper sauce
4 tbsps water
1 tsp caraway seeds
½ tsp salt
1/8 cup wine vinegar
Mix dressing and toss with grated carrot with parsley. Serve as a side dish to the couscous.
*To make your own Harissa:
1 tbsp crushed red pepper
1 clove of garlic crushed
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt
Moroccan 7-Vegetable Couscous
2 tbsps olive oil
1 medium onion chopped
2 celery stalks chopped
1 large garlic clove, chopped
1 medium tomato chopped
1 tbsp sun-dried tomato chopped
½ sweet green, red or yellow pepper chopped
½ cup raisins
1/2 tsp ground ginger
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 cup canned chickpeas
½ cup black olives
1 cup dry couscous
1 ½ cups water
Boil 1 ½ cups water with pinch of salt. In another pot, heat oil and add onions, celery and garlic and cook on medium until wilted (4-5 minutes). Add sweet pepper, ginger, raisins and cook for 1 minute more. Add couscous and stir in boiling water. Season with salt and pepper and add chickpeas and olives. Cover the pot, remove from heat and let it stand 10 minutes. Fluff couscous with fork. Transfer to large platter. Garnish with lemon wedges. Serve, passing salt and pepper, harissa or hot sauce and nuts (almonds or pistachios) separately.
Moroccan Oranges with Cinnamon
4 oranges (the sweetest you can find)
1 tbsp cinnamon
Peel oranges, then slice crossways into rounds and arrange on a pretty plate. Lightly dust with cinnamon and serve immediately. Serve with cashews or pistachio nuts, dried dates or fresh figs if you wish for an exotic dessert.
5. Tex-Mex Fiesta for 4
Chips, salsa and guacamole
Beef Taco salad
Pineapple with Mint and Sugar
Chips and salsa
Serve store bought chips and salsa. You may wish to heat the chips in the oven at 250 for 3-4 minutes until just warm.
2 ripe avocados (soft to the touch)
2 tbsps pickled jalapeno peppers, chopped (or fresh jalapenos if you wish)
2 tbsps prepared salsa
1 Tbsp lime juice
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp cilantro, minced
More salt and lime to taste.
Peel and seed avocado and place in a bowl. Add peppers, salsa, garlic, salt and lime juice and mix gently with avocado (I like it chunky rather than smooth). Taste and add more salt or lime juice if necessary. Serve with taco chips
Beef Taco Salad
1 pound lean ground beef
1 package taco seasoning mix (Taco Bell, McCormack, Chichi’s) or make your own (see below)
1/2 cup water
1 medium head lettuce, shredded, about 4 cups
1 cup shredded sharp Jack or Cheddar cheese
1/2 cup sliced black olives
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
½ cup pickled jalapeno peppers
1 cup chopped onions
1 cup sliced avocado
½ cup chopped cilantro
1 cup sour cream
1 cup salsa
2 cups corn chips
Hot pepper sauce
Brown beef in a heavy skillet; drain off excess fat. Sprinkle taco seasoning mix over beef and stir in water. Simmer, uncovered, until liquid cooks away, about 8 to 12 minutes.
In a large platter, place separate bowls of shredded lettuce, shredded cheese, tomato, olives, jalapenos, avocado, cilantro, sour cream and green bell pepper. For each serving, place lettuce mixture on salad plate or bowl, top with some of the meat mixture and garnish with vegetables, cheese, sour cream taco sauce (or salsa) and hot sauce Serve with taco chips.
Variations: Use ground turkey instead of beef or make it with black beans for vegetarians. Use the seasoned ground meat or beans to make nachos, quesadillas or enchiladas if you prefer.
This recipe will season 1 pound of ground beef.
1 tbsp chile powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp garlic powder
2 tsps onion powder
1/2 tsp salt
Shake or mix all ingredients together. Add to ground meat or beans and add more salt to taste.
Pineapple with Mint Sugar
1 whole pineapple trimmed and sliced or cut into cubes
1 Tbsp white sugar
½ cup fresh mint leaves* (or cinnamon or nutmeg)
Grind sugar into mint leaves with a mortar and pestle or with the back of a large spoon. Sprinkle over platter of pineapple and serve immediately.
* If you cannot find fresh mint leaves, simply add sugar and cinnamon or nutmeg to pineapple and serve immediately.
6. Pan-Asian Party for 4
4 cups thinly sliced cabbage (white or red)
1 small red chili chopped finely
1 medium red onion sliced thin
1 cup shredded carrot
1 bunch cilantro chopped (optional)
1 bunch mint chopped (optional)
½ cup nuts (peanuts, cashews, almonds) (optional)
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
3 tbsps water
3 tbsps sugar
3 tbsps Asian fish sauce
1 tsps dried hot red-pepper flakes
Mix the first four ingredients with dressing and place on large platter. Sprinkle with herbs and nuts (if using).
1 16-ounce packages 1/4-inch-wide flat rice noodles (or 1 lb.linguine pasta)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
6 Tbsps of red chili garlic sauce*
1 1/2 pounds ground chicken
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup fish sauce (if you don’t have fish sauce add more soy sauce)
6 Tbsps oyster sauce
3 tbsp sugar
1 green and 1red bell pepper cut into strips (or if you really like it hot use 2 red chile peppers and 2 jalapeno peppers instead)
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
4 large plum tomatoes, each cut into 6 wedges
¼ cup cilantro (optional)
1 cup bean sprouts (optional)
1 bunch scallions (green onions) chopped (optional)
Cook noodles according to package directions until tender but still firm to bite, stirring frequently. Drain. Meanwhile, heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add chili garlic sauce and sauté 30 seconds. Add ground chicken, fish and soy sauce and sugar and sauté until chicken is cooked through, about 4 minutes. Add noodles, tomatoes, basil and peppers; toss to coat the noodles with sauce. Transfer to large platter, sprinkle with garnishes of cilantro leaves, sprouts and scallions, and serve with lime quarters and extra chili garlic sauce or hot sauce.
Red chili garlic sauce is available in the Asian ingredients section of most supermarkets or make your own by crushing 12 garlic cloves and mixing with 1/4 cup chopped fresh red Thai chile peppers (in place of peppers you could use 1 Tbsp crushed red pepper flakes or 1 tsp hot chili oil)
Asian Fruit Salad
1 cup fresh, ripe mango peeled and trimmed into cubes
8-12 fresh strawberries, trimmed and halved
1 cup fresh pineapple, peeled and trimmed into cubes
Juice of 1 lime (2 tbsps juice)
2 tbsps of brown sugar
Fresh basil and/or mint leaves (optional)
Place fruit together in a mixing bowl. In another bowl, mix lime juice with sugar until sugar is dissolved. Gently mix into fruit and garnish with fresh basil and mint leaves.