Despite the fact that I have returned from St. Martin as anything but a skinny cook, it was a wonderful and restorative week. We hung out on the beach, watched sunsets from our balcony every evening, ate too much, drank too much, hiked up mountains (oh, okay, really steep hills) to incredible panoramic views, kayaked to an adjacent island, devoured a few e-books and even did some shopping. Oh, and did I mention that we ate too much?
That's because St. Martin is home to some of the finest restaurants in the Caribbean. Especially if you hang out on the French side of the island. On our very first day, we stopped by Bacchus to pick up a few provisions. I could barely get past their bountiful display of glorious, multi-colored macaroons:
But then it happened ... I rounded the corner and encountered a plate of canneles.
Now you don't know this, but making these has been on my bucket list for a very long time. Canneles are small pastries baked in special copper molds lined with beeswax and they are creamy, crunchy and sweet all at the same time. They are addictive and adorable. I purchased the molds and the beeswax a few months ago but never got around to making them. Here is a link if you want more information:
Onward to lunch, possibly our favorite vacation meal. We love moules frite at Brasserie de la Gare in Marigot, conch salad at Mr. Busby's Beach Bar in Oyster Pond, mahi sandwiches at the Sunset Bar and Grill in Maho (while watching jumbo jets land directly over the beach, blowing unsuspecting tourists into the water) and the smoked fish salad at Layla's.
Layla's is probably the highest on our hit parade, largely because of the setting. It's directly on the beach, and you sit with your toes in the sand under both shade and palm trees. The occasional dog comes by for a tidbit and you sit back lazily with your chilled bottle of rose and take in the view. It's the best way to spend two hours that I can think of. It's even better if your order their baked camembert.
I figured it would be easy to recreate their recipe and I was right. Nailed it on the very first try. This makes a lovely appetizer or it is delicious even as a light lunch - even if you're not sitting on the beach in St. Martin. Just don't forget that bottle of rose!
BAKED CAMEMBERT IN THE STYLE OF LAYLA'S
1 8-oz. round of good Camembert (preferably in a wood box)
1 clove garlic, mashed to a paste
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (or chopped Italian parsley)
A light sprinkling of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Sliced apples and bread rounds for serving
Preheat oven to 400-degrees.
Remove the paper from Camembert, put the cheese back in its box (uncovered) and place on a baking sheet. Using a sharp knife, cut a series of small slits all over the top of the cheese.
In a small bowl, combine the garlic, olive oil and thyme. Brush the mixture over the top of the camembert and season lightly with the salt and pepper.
Place in the preheated oven and bake for 15 - 20 minutes or until cheese softens and is heated through. Serve on a lettuce-lined platter with sliced apples and bread rounds.
Serves 4, unless you are sitting on the beach for a leisurely couple of hours, then it might only serve 2!
* In the interest of full disclosure, I baked mine for 10 minutes and it wasn't quite enough time. I recommend checking it at 15 minutes, then keeping a close eye on it until it's done.
And centipedes? No, we didn't eat them. But I did have an encounter with one in my bare feet at 6:00 in the morning as we were getting ready to head out for a deep-sea fishing excursion. The thing had slithered under a chair in our living room and I managed to step on it. EEEEEEEK! (I probably woke up everyone in the town of Grand Case with my screams). Fortunately, Henry whipped out his iPad, googled "centipede bite" and determined that I wasn't going to die.
Alrighty, then. On to the next meal!