A yacht chef shares recipes for an elegant New Year’s party


‘Menus and Memoirs of a Yacht Chef’

Marianne Gardner’s book is available for $29.95 at menusandmemoirs.com.

Side Dish

Bourbon-Glazed Acorn Squash

2 to 3 acorn squash

6 tablespoons maple syrup

6 tablespoons bourbon

Salt, to taste

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

2 tablespoons butter

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Cover a baking sheet with foil and oil it.

Trim off top and bottom of each squash. Cut body of each squash into rings or half-moons about 3/4- to 1-inch thick; do not peel.

Place in a single layer on prepared baking sheet. Poke each piece of squash with a fork several times.

Combine remaining ingredients in a small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave until butter melts.

Brush butter mixture onto squash. Bake squash 30 minutes basting with additional bourbon mixture every 10 minutes; you will have some mixture left. Dish can be made ahead to this point.

When ready to serve, Heat broiler. Brush squash with some of the remaining bourbon mixture. Broil 1 to 2 minutes until heated through and starting to brown. Drizzle with remaining glaze before serving. Makes 6 servings.

Source: Adapted from ‘Menus and Memoirs of a Yacht Chef’ by Marianne Gardner.

Per serving: 204 calories (17 percent from fat), 4.1 g fat (2.5 g saturated, 1.0 g monounsaturated), 10.4mg cholesterol, 1.8 g protein, 35.7g carbohydrates, 3.8g fiber, 43 mg sodium.


Strawberry Spinach Salad

Red wine vinaigrette:

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons sesame seeds

1 1/2 teaspoons poppy seeds, optional

Salt, to taste

Spinach salad:

1 tablespoon butter

1/2 cup sliced almonds

1 (10-ounce) bag fresh baby spinach

1/2 pint strawberries, sliced

1 cup chopped mango, optional

To make dressing: Combine all ingredients in a jar and shake to combine.

To make salad: In a skillet over medium heat, melt butter. Add almonds and sauté until golden; watch carefully so they don’t burn. Refrigerate until serving.

Place spinach in a bowl. Add strawberries; mango, if using; and almonds. Add dressing and toss to combine. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Source: Adapted from ‘Menus and Memoirs of a Yacht Chef’ by Marianne Gardner.

Per serving: 173 calories (76 percent from fat), 15.3 g fat (2.8 g saturated, 9.6 g monounsaturated), 5.1 mg cholesterol, 3.3 g protein, 7.5g carbohydrates, 2.5 g fiber, 55 mg sodium.

Main Dish

New Chicken Cordon Bleu

Chef Marianne Gardner makes her own Cajun spice mix but when testing the recipe we used Chef Paul’s Poultry Magic. She cooks these in butter for flavor and browning, but you can use oil or a combination of butter and oil.

Stuffed chicken breasts:

6 medium boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Cajun seasoning mix, to taste

Salt and fresh-ground pepper, to taste

12 thin slices prosciutto or cold-smoked salmon

1 cup plus 2 tablespoon blue cheese or Roquefort crumbles

Bread crumb coating:

1/2 cup flour

Salt and fresh-ground pepper, to taste

2 eggs, slightly beaten

5 tablespoons milk

1 cup dried bread crumbs

1 tablespoon Italian seasoning mix

1/2 cup fine-grated Parmesan cheese

Butter and/or safflower oil, for frying

To stuff chicken: Place a chicken breast on a work surface. Cover with plastic wrap. Using a meat mallet or other heavy object, pound the meat until it is thin and twice its size. Repeat with remaining chicken breasts.

Sprinkle each with Cajun seasoning, salt and pepper. Pat in spices.

Place a slice of prosciutto or salmon to cover half of each chicken breast. Top each with 3 tablespoons cheese and another piece of prosciutto or salmon atop the cheese.

Fold the open half of each chicken breast over the filling ingredients and seal edges by pressing firmly.

To coat chicken: Combine flour, salt and pepper on a plate. In a wide-mouthed bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk. On another plate, combine the bread crumbs, Italian seasoning and Parmesan.

Dip each stuffed chicken breast into the flour mixture, then into the egg mixture and finally into the bread crumb mixture. Completely coat with each mixture and shake off excess after each dipping. Place breaded chicken on a wax paper-lined baking sheet to rest 15 minutes.

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large skillet over medium to medium-high heat, heat about 1/4 inch of oil and/or butter.

Place breaded chicken breasts into skillet and cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Remove from pan and place on baking sheet (remove wax paper first). Bake 20 to 30 minutes until cooked through. Makes 6 servings.

Source: Adapted from ‘Menus and Memoirs of a Yacht Chef’ by Marianne Gardner.

Per serving: 478 calories (45 percent from fat), 23 g fat (9.8 g saturated, 8.2 g monounsaturated), 171 mg cholesterol, 42 g protein, 23 g carbohydrates, 1 g fiber, 1144 mg sodium


Marianne’s Award-Winning Key Lime Pie

I served this pie to friends who deemed it the best Key lime pie they ever had. It’s light and delightful. The recipe incorporates uncooked egg whites into the filling. You may wish to use pasteurized eggs.

1 (9-inch) graham cracker crumb pie crust

1 (1/4-ounce) envelope unflavored gelatin

1 cup sugar, divided

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon fine-grated lime peel

4 eggs, separated

1/2 cup Key lime juice

Ice and water, for chilling

1 cup heavy whipping cream

Lime slices and chopped pistachio nuts, for garnish

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Bake pie crust 8 minutes. Let cool. (You can turn off the oven.)

In a nonreactive medium saucepan, combine gelatin, 1/2 cup sugar, the salt and lime peel. Set aside.

Place egg yolks in a medium bowl; set whites aside. Combine lime juice with 1/4 cup water. Whisk egg yolks constantly as you slowly add the lime juice mixture. Stir into sugar mixture in saucepan and place over medium-high heat.

Stirring constantly, bring just to a boil. Remove from heat and place pan in a bowl with ice and water. Stir occasionally while completing the recipe to quickly cool.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, beat egg whites on high speed of an electric mixer. When peaks start to form, add 1/2 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat until shiny stiff peaks form. This can take 5 minutes and you should have about 4 cups of meringue.

In another bowl, beat the cream until stiff peaks form.

To assemble, fold the cooled lime juice mixture into the egg whites. Then fold in the whipped cream.

Pour filling into cooled pie crust. Refrigerate at least 5 hours. Serve garnished with lime slices and chopped pistachio nuts. Makes 6 servings.

Source: Adapted from ‘Menus and Memoirs of a Yacht Chef’ by Marianne Gardner.

Per serving: 478 calories (47 percent from fat), 25.5g fat (11.7 g saturated, 10.6 g monounsaturated), 178 mg cholesterol, 7.6 g protein, 56 g carbohydrates, .6 g fiber, 263 mg sodium.

To help us leave a stormy 2012 behind and enjoy smooth sailing into the New Year, we turn to yacht chef Marianne Gardner.

She has spent over two decades on boats traveling through the Caribbean and Mediterranean, around French Polynesia and New Zealand as well as crossing both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

And now she’s dropped anchor in Fort Lauderdale just in time to share her ideas for a New Year’s Eve feast.

You’ll find her recipes collected in Menus and Memoirs of a Yacht Chef, a self-published cookbook. It was four years in the making and contains more than 100 recipes and many memories.

“It’s a chance for people to get a glimpse of what it’s like to cook and crew on a yacht,” she says.

And although her lifestyle may at first glance be exotic, even glamorous, it’s not easy.

“I love the challenge of juggling a lot of balls and making things come together and making it look effortless,” she says of a skill she calls on while serving as not only the onboard chef but often also the stewardess, deckhand and engineer.

“Working on yachts is a challenge I’ve always enjoyed,” says Gardner, 53.

A typical morning might begin at 6 a.m. when she turns on the coffee pot. Her day is filled with cooking, making beds, doing laundry, helping guests get ashore, cleaning fingerprints off wood, fixing the engine, hoisting the anchor and placing mints on pillows. It doesn’t end until about 11 p.m. when she readies the coffeepot for the next morning.

That’s a normal day when the owner is onboard, but she has to be ready for anything on a moment’s notice.

It wasn’t like that for Gardner growing up on the plains of Alberta, Canada. That’s when she learned to cook from her mother. She remembers standing on a stool helping her make pie crusts or anything else she was preparing.

“My mother was an excellent cook and I always had a passion for it,” she says.

Over the years, her cooking skills grew as she threw parties for friends, read food magazines and dissected restaurant meals so she could improve them at home.

“I just really started paying attention to what I was eating,” she says.

In 1991, she went sailing with friends in the Ionian Islands of Greece. And that’s when she discovered her passion for boating. She returned to London, where she lived, and got her yacht training.

On the first motor yacht on which she served, the captain was not only a good seaman but also a chef who had trained at the Culinary Institute of America. When he wasn’t at the helm, he was in the galley showing Gardner how to make a sauce or improve her plate presentations.

“He took a shine to me and liked my cooking. So he took me under his wing to help me ‘gourmet up’ my food,” she says.

Trying her recipes, we discover her dishes are richly flavorful and elegantly presented; her recipes also are easy to follow.

“For me, cooking is as much about enjoying the process as it is about enjoying the food,” she says. “If you don’t have fun cooking, you shouldn’t do it.”

For the holiday, start with her New Chicken Cordon Bleu. Gardner remembers her mother making this dish by stuffing chicken breasts with ham and Swiss cheese.

When Gardner began living on her own, she wanted to host a dinner party. That’s when she called her mother and asked for the recipe.

She still has the scrap of paper on which she jotted down her instructions. “It’s traveled around the world with me,” she says.

But over time, she’s added her own “gourmet” touches. She uses smoked salmon or prosciutto and blue cheese to stuff the chicken breasts that you then coat with bread crumbs and fry until golden before baking to moist perfection.

Serve this with her Bourbon-Glazed Acorn Squash rings. Although Gardner doesn’t drink liquor, she likes to use alcohol to flavor dishes.

“It makes such a big difference,” she says. Here she pairs bourbon with maple syrup, fresh-grated nutmeg and butter to make a rich glaze.

Thinking not only of good flavor but making the plate look good, Gardener suggests serving the browned chicken and golden squash with peas, for color.

Our New Year’s Eve menu also includes her Strawberry Spinach Salad. On a yacht, she serves it on individual plates with the strawberry slices arranged like a flower on a bed of spinach. Then she garnishes each plate with a mango fan.

For the home cook struggling to get dinner on for guests, it might be easier to toss all the ingredients in a serving bowl and let people help themselves.

Her suggested New Year’s Eve finale is her Award-Winning Key Lime Pie. She developed the recipe while working on the 92-foot motor yacht Angel, which she helped take to the Keys and the Bahamas.

“I never liked Key lime pie,” she says. So she played with the traditional recipe to create a version that is lightened with whipped egg whites and cream.

The owner of the yacht liked this dessert so much he made Gardner promise to prepare it every time he was onboard.

In 2007, on the 75-foot motor yacht Viva, she was called upon to make this dessert again. But this time it was for a culinary competition.

She and the crew were in Tortola for a charter broker show. That’s when the boat’s captain, Mike McKee, who is now Gardner’s husband, entered her in the contest. She submitted her pie for judging and won a blue ribbon.

This pie has become Gardner’s signature dish that she makes about once a week while on the water.

“I can make these pies in my sleep,” she says. And being a yacht chef always on call, that’s a good thing.

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