Sailcooking: Wood-Fired Steak and Spicy Green Beans

Our chartered sailboat docked at an island, as seen from the firepit near the beach.

Some of my friends are experienced sailors, and I recently had the awesome opportunity to sail Lake Superior with them; specifically, we explored the Apostle Islands.  There were a total of four of us guys on our chartered sailboat for four days in early September.

I don’t know much about sailing, so I made my primary contribution be our food; I did the food shopping and the cooking of our evening meals including chicken fajitas, birch-grilled steak, and grilled pork chops marinated in salsa verde.

We stayed on the boat every day of the trip; it was conveniently equiped with quite a complete kitchen, and even a propane-fueled grill over the stern.

The sailboat galley with gimbaled stove.

On one day we sailed to an island that had a dock in water deep enough for our keelboat, so that day we grilled ribeye steaks ashore over local birchwood from the boreal forest.

While we are all meat-eating men, we’re not savages.  We accompanied the dinner with a salad with freshly-made croutons of diced sourdough bread browned in olive oil, minced garlic, and salt.

Garlic sourdough croutons.

Mixed greens salad.

Our side dish was spicy green beans, similar to szechuan-style green beans.  Red pepper flakes and garlic were soaked in olive oil for a while, then we sautéed whole, trimmed green beans in that spiced oil.

Spicy green beans.

While I was aboard preparing the sides, one of my fellow sailors expertly grilled our thick ribeye steaks (rubbed with garlic olive oil, and minced garlic, salt and pepper) at the beach over a birchwood fire.  They were excellent, as evidence by my eating before taking a photograph; grilling over wood makes a huge difference in flavor as compared to gas or charcoal.

Ribeye steak grilled over birchwood, spicy green beans, and salad.

It was a spectacular trip, and the four of us guys managed to eat better than we ought to have. Ah, roughing it. :)

Stuffed Tomatoes and Peppers for 18 people!

Stuffed Tomatoes and Peppers to serve 18

So after a bit of a posting hiatus, I’m back… life got busy, mostly with fun stuff, so I haven’t been cooking a lot of new things, but I did find some interesting cooking situations, so here goes.

My girlfriend recently moved into a co-op house with 14 residents in total.  While the house doesn’t share all their food, as some co-ops do, huge dinners are prepared to eat communally; every resident signs-up for nights to make dinner for everyone, and this happens nearly every single day!

Whomever is making a dinner also typically invites other guests of their own. So, for this first dinner, we were preparing for 18 people!  That’s definitely the biggest sit-down home meal I’ve ever participated in preparing.

At the co-op house, appropriately, a lot of the cooking vessels are king-sized.

A giant colander.

And, an advantage is one gets to cook on this huge Viking gas range!

The co-op’s huge Viking gas range.

For the stuffed peppers and tomatoes, we prepared a stuffing of the following:

  • brown rice (cooked)
  • fresh tomato (cores, chopped)
  • fresh mushroom (finely chopped)
  • fresh garlic (minced)
  • fresh italian sausages (removed from casing and browned)
  • both fresh and dried oregano
  • fennel seed
  • cayenne pepper (powder)
  • fresh parsley (finely chopped)
  • salt and pepper
  • parmesan cheese (grated)

This was the first meal we prepared for the co-op; having no idea how long it would take to prepare, we started at about 2pm for a 7pm dinnertime.  (As it turns out, that was none too soon for this first effort.)

Hours of prep, prep, and more prep!

The peppers (selected for large size, and so they could stand upright) and tomatoes were cored and packed in baking pans (lightly greased with olive oil).

Hollowed-out peppers and tomoatoes; italian sausage for stuffing.

The stuffing ingredients were mixed and lightly cooked with the sausage after browning.

Chopped mushroom for the filling; also, tomatoes and minced garlic.

A relatively small amount of sausage was used (5 sausages for 18 total servings), and browned in a large pan.

Browning italian sausage.

Once the filling was mixed together with the cooked brown rice and seasoned to taste, the peppers and tomatoes were filled.  We also made some vegetarian only filling, substituting some more cheese instead of the sausage, and we were careful to keep track of which were the vegetarian ones.

Stuffed and ready for the oven.

For a side, we washed and trimmed 3-4 pounds of fresh green beans.

Prepped green beans.

The green beans were steamed while sliced almonds and garlic were sauteed in oil.

Toasting/browning sliced almonds in olive oil with garlic.

Humongous steamers are great for preparing the vegetables, and the range top with so many gas burners allows many things to be going at once.

To finish the beans, they were tossed with the almonds and some tamari (a gluten-free alternative to soy sauce.)

Green beans with garlic, almond, and soy sauce.

The co-op has a large dining room with a great table, here set for 17 residents and guests!  Two kinds of sliced melon were also served with the dinner.

The co-op’s dining room table, awaiting the dinner bell.

For those residents don’t make it for dinner, the leftovers are packed individually for each of them and left in their respective refrigerators.

So, from this monumental task, here’s what I learned:

  • Food prep takes a long time; in total we took over 4 hours to prepare this meal.  We’ll get better at using the food processor for chopping.
  • Adding spices for very large dishes takes practice… I kept having to add, taste, add, taste, add, add, add!
  • Easy summer foods like sweet corn on the cob and watermelons are great side dishes.
  • The hollowed-out bell peppers can be blanched and partially cooked in boiling water before stuffing them, so that they cook in much less time, similarly to the time for the tomatoes.
  • Some wine before dinner, near the end of the cooking, definitely helps relieve stress. :)
  • A large group makes for quite the convivial kitchen and dinnertime.

Alas, this post isn’t a recipe, per se… I’ve lost track of many quantities and there were a lot of adjustments to taste.  I trust most of you don’t need measurements to prepare such a meal for 18 people, though. :)

If you’d like a stuffed pepper recipe, here are some places to start:

Sweet Clementine Chicken and Szechuan Green Beans

Sweet Clementine Chicken and Szechuan Green Beans

At Christmastime I made a slightly spicy Clementine marmalade, and still had some left, so decided to use it in this orange chicken dish.

Orange Chicken: carrots, baby bok choy, peanut oil, sliced chicken breast, minced fresh garlic and ginger, water, rice vinegar, soy sauce, five spice powder, salt & pepper, red pepper flakes, sliced scallion greens, Clementine marmalade, toasted slivered almonds, and (frozen) green peas, corn starch to thicken sauce as necessary. Served with sticky Calrose rice.

One “trick” I discovered is to cut the carrots the way many Chinese restaurants do, so that the slices have slanted ends and ripples on the long side edges: first slice the carrot diagonally into thick “chips” with a ripple blade (or mandolin), then lay the chips flat and cut them into relatively thin strips.  Here’s a 1 minute video on Fancy Cut Carrot.

Szechuan Beans: green beans, peanut oil, minced fresh garlic and ginger, minced scallion (white portion), chili garlic sauce, sesame oil, toasted sesame seed.

Here are the recipes I consulted for ideas:

“Spicy Orange Chicken Stir-Fry”

“Szechuan Green Bean Recipe”

“Clementine Marmalade”