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.