Dishes that transport you

Meals: Cruise-line recipes can take you sailing into international waters.

February 09, 2000|By Kim Upton | Kim Upton,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

There once was a time, not so long ago, when I smiled at the mention of cruise-ship food as a respectable culinary experience. But eight cruises later -- down the Nile, through the Panama Canal, threading both the Caribbean and the Mediterranean and crossing the Atlantic -- I have altered that view.

Dining at sea has changed. In fact, now dinner can be a culinary window into the countries being explored and the ships investigating them.

Take, for example, my recent Atlantic crossing on the QE2. What I enjoyed at the table was tandoori chicken (a remembrance of the English in India), raspberry sorbet with fresh mint (European, but with a contemporary twist) and scones with Devonshire cream (a part of the British afternoon tea tradition that can't be improved).

And that was just on one cruise.

On previous trips I have sampled excellent baba ghannouj on the Nile, wonderful black bean soup in the Caribbean and delicious gazpacho off the coast of Spain. I was intrigued by the possibilities, so I contacted a dozen of the 23 cruise lines that are members of Cruise Lines International Association, an industry group that represents sea trips taken by 96 percent of cruise passengers from the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Taken together, those companies visited 1,800 ports of call on 129 ships in 1999. While I can't afford to visit all those places, I do have enough cash for vicarious dining. And what I found, after trying 20-some recipes, was tasty indeed.

In my kitchen, I was taken on a cruise past Mexico and the Southwest with Princess Cruises' Tequila Chicken With Buttermilk-Chive Mashed Potatoes. On a Windstar Cruise in our kitchen, my family sailed past Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, dining on Salmon Tournedos With Garlicky Broccoli Rabe.

I also tried out a few drinks. Among them was Havana Delight, a high-octane concoction served by Carnival Cruise Lines in the Caribbean. If calories were no issue, Havana Delight would be my pick for outstanding kitchen cruise drink.

Then there were Maui Mango Pasta With Shrimp (from American Hawaii Cruises) and Manchego Cheese Salad With Arugula and Moroccan Dates (from Windstar Cruises).

So step into your kitchens and pretend you're sailing through international waters with recipes that have been simplified for home use but originate from cruise-line kitchens.

Manchego Cheese Salad With Arugula and Moroccan Dates

Serves 6

8 cups arugula pieces

3 ounces manchego cheese, shaved (see note)

1 tablespoon diced shallot

10 pitted Moroccan dates, sliced

1/2 cup caramelized walnuts (see note)

1/2 cup walnut vinaigrette (see note)

1 tablespoon pistachio oil, optional (available in specialty-food stores)

Toss together arugula, cheese, shallot, dates, walnuts and vinaigrette.

Pack into a 9-inch ring of a springform pan on a serving platter. Remove ring and drizzle salad with pistachio oil.

Alternately, toss together all ingredients, except pistachio oil, in a large bowl and serve.

Note: Manchego is the celebrated Spanish hard cheese that has a dusky, fruity taste and a high butterfat content.

Commercially made praline walnuts can be substituted for caramelized walnuts. Or make your own by heating 1/2 cup sugar in a heavy skillet, stirring frequently, until sugar is melted and golden. Stir in 1/2 cup walnuts. Turn out onto a greased, heat-tempered dish. Quickly separate walnuts with a spoon and allow to cool before serving.

Use commercially prepared walnut vinaigrette or make it by whisking together 1/4 cup white-wine vinegar, 1 minced shallot and 1/2 cup walnut oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

-- From Windstar Cruises

Tequila Chicken With Buttermilk-Chive Mashed Potatoes

Serves 4-6

CHICKEN:

1/4 cup tequila

1/2 cup lemon juice

4 large cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon)

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 cup olive oil

6 chicken breast halves, skinned and boned if desired

1 to 2 tablespoons oil, optional

POTATOES:

3 pounds Idaho potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks

2 tablespoons chopped, fresh chives

6 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces

1/4 to 1/2 cup buttermilk

salt, white pepper

GARNISH, OPTIONAL:

1 flour tortilla, julienne and fried (see note)

1/2 teaspoon white sesame seeds, toasted (see note)

fresh chives

1/2 cup commercially made salsa

To prepare chicken, whisk together tequila, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, salt, pepper and olive oil. Place chicken breasts in a bowl and pour marinade over top. Marinate, refrigerated, at least 8 hours but not more than 24.

To prepare potatoes, place potato chunks in a large pan filled with lightly salted water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Drain.

Mash hot potatoes with chives, butter and buttermilk to desired consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Keep warm until ready to serve.

Either grill chicken breasts to desired doneness or saute in oil, 3 to 5 minutes per side.

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