Easy Mushroom Risotto
There was only one other boat in the deserted Sea of Cortez anchorage. My husband, Dave, and I had met Helen and Wayne a few days earlier aboard Viajera, a Kelly-Peterson 44. We invited them aboard Taking Flight, our Cal 34, for appetizers. It was a typical cruisers' sunset hour, largely spent swapping sea stories. Eventually, appetizers evolved into an ad hoc dinner.
The only fresh vegetables aboard were tomatoes, which had all ripened that morning. The mushrooms and rice for the risotto would come from our dry stores. (Note: Use only Arborio rice, a short, round-grain Italian variety with a high starch content, when making risotto.) I gathered the ingredients and fished out the pressure cooker. While onions sautéed, I sliced the tomatoes and tossed them with oil and vinegar, lamenting the lack of fresh basil, thyme, or oregano. I was waiting for the pressure cooker to come up to pressure when Helen asked, "Is everything OK?"
I was startled by the question. What could be wrong? Dinner was about to cook itself in the pressure cooker, and then I'd rejoin them on deck.
"It's dark down there," she said. "Are you sure you're OK?" Now I understood. After a year and a half of cruising, I saved every amp I could. I didn't need light to watch a pot boil, so I'd turned it off. We were fanatics about conserving power: We made the most of the energy provided by two 75-watt and two 35-watt solar panels, and we often chose to work by LED flashlight; its narrow beam is perfect for task lighting. Instead of using the spreader lights on deck, we used a handheld spotlight. A solar-powered charger kept Taking Flight's batteries going.
Saving fuel was also important to us-pressure cookers save 30 percent to 50 percent of stove-top energy. We carried one five-gallon propane tank; the pressure cooker made multiple meals with minimal propane. It also kept the boat cooler than when we simmered soups or stews for long time periods or fired up the oven for baked potatoes or casseroles. Our routine may seem extreme, but it paid off-not just monetarily. Yes, we bought fewer gallons of diesel, but even better, we never left an anchorage for fuel. We stayed in Melaque for more than a month without running the engine. We went sightseeing in Santa Rosalia instead of waiting (and paying) for fuel. Our habits gave us freedom.
I rejoined the gathering on deck and sat in the glow of the cockpit light-our anchor light, which we'd hung lower for the evening's conversation. Stories shifted from storms at sea to energy conservation on board.
Among other things, the crew of Viajera balanced her sails for self-steering, rarely using the autopilot. All sailors find their own ways to save a few amps!
Easy Mushroom Risotto
1 medium onion, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup Arborio rice
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup dried porcini or other wild
mushrooms or 2 cups fresh, washed
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 to 2 cups water or chicken stock,
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Parsley or basil, chopped
* If you substitute dried mushrooms, reconstitute with 1/2 cup water or stock for 20 minutes. Strain and reserve the liquid. If you use fresh mushrooms, sauté in 1 tablespoon each butter and olive oil. Salt to taste. Add wine and simmer until reduced; set aside.
Sauté onion in olive oil in a pressure cooker. Add butter and rice, stirring well. Salt and pepper to taste. Add mushrooms, reserved juices, and wine. Stir in 2 cups simmering water/stock. Close pressure cooker and bring to pressure. Reduce heat; cook 10 minutes. Cool until lid is easy to remove. Stir in cheese. Garnish with parsley or basil. Serves two.
Follow the first three steps above, using a skillet. Add 1/2 cup simmering water/stock, stirring constantly, until most of the liquid is gone. Add another 1/2 cup of same; stir. Repeat. Add mushrooms and pan juices. Simmer and stir until liquid is gone (30 minutes). Rice will be soft. Stir in cheese; garnish with parsley or basil, Serves two.