Cruising and cooking: Ship's class reveals healthy recipes

Pan-seared scallops over mashed artichoke with tomato confit garnish. BY JACK CLEMONS
January 23, 2012

We’ve just returned from a magical trip - 10 days of blue water, sunshine and tropical islands. And, if that wasn’t enough, we also had the opportunity to attend shipboard classes in a Bon Appétit Culinary Center. With an expanse of floor-to-ceiling windows looking out to the ocean, the beautiful classroom included 12 individual hands-on stations complete with marble counters, gleaming sinks, induction cooktops and all the tools you might need.

CIA-trained instructors (that’s Culinary Institute of America, not the secret spy agency) taught a range of classes, from basic grilling to creating the gourmet meals served in the ship’s Grand Dining Room. Our first class focused on healthy cooking: small dishes made with high-quality ingredients to deliver distinctive layers of flavor.

When we walked into the room, each station had been supplied with prep bowls full of ingredients along with the necessary baking dishes and mixing bowls. After donning our aprons and hats, we received an introduction to our knives, hearing once again that the only dangerous knife is a dull one. With lots of practice, we finally mastered the correct curled-knuckle hold essential to safe slicing and dicing.

We began with a basic crab and poblano quesadilla, highlighted with creamy goat cheese, bright lime notes and avocado garnish. As with most of the dishes we made, Chef Annie Copps offered us any number of variations that could be substituted, such as jalapeno for more heat or shredded chicken instead of crab. We were so busy tasting and chatting about the delicious quesadillas, our instructor had to use her “come to order” trick to get our attention. She calls out “one, two, three” and the class responds in unison, “Yes, chef!,” quieting the room.

Key lime pie was a surprising menu item for a class on healthy eating, but the technique we learned saved calories without sacrificing flavor. A crust of graham cracker crumbs needed only water to cling to the inside of the pie pan, eliminating the need for melted butter. Although we didn’t use key limes, fresh lime juice whisked with sweetened condensed milk and egg yolk baked into a creamy, rich dessert.

We made two different seafood dishes and gained more confidence with our knife skills along the way. Coconut- and macadamia-crusted mahi mahi was easy: bread the filets, sauté to start and then finish in the oven. The sous chefs assisting the instructor had already done the more difficult work: simmering a garnish of horseradish orange marmalade. The crunchy coating was a perfect complement to the delicate mahi, and the marmalade added just enough subtle heat.

The most elegant dish we made was pan-seared scallops garnished with tomato confit. Here’s where we encountered the challenges of cooking on an induction burner. Resembling a smooth cooktop, induction burners have coils of wire beneath a ceramic surface. Electricity through the coils creates a magnetic field, which generates an electric current when a metal pot is placed on the surface.

There’s a sensor in the induction cooktop that will stop this process when the pan is removed from the surface, definitely a good safety feature. However, it can be a bit problematic if you’re constantly swishing and lifting the skillet instead of stirring the contents with the rubber spatula, as instructed. Fortunately, it didn’t take us too long to reduce the minced onion, tomato and wine into a rich sauce for the scallops that cooked perfectly in just a few moments (see photo, plated on a round of mashed artichoke).

Perhaps it was the congratulatory glass of wine from our instructor that enhanced our tasting experience, but we gained a whole new appreciation for easy, delicious and healthy dishes.

Scallops with Tomato Confit
1 T olive oil
1 diced onion
1 T minced garlic
4 tomatoes, peeled and diced
1/3 C white wine
3 T chopped parsley
salt & pepper, to taste
2 T olive oil
1 lb scallops

Heat 1 T oil in a skillet over medium. Add the onions and sauté until translucent, about 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook just until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and wine. Cook until almost dry and all the liquid has been reduced. Add seasonings; set aside. To cook the scallops, heat 2 T oil in a skillet. Pat scallops dry with paper towel on all sides. When oil is quite hot, but not smoking, place the scallops in the skillet. Cook until caramelized, about 1 to 2 minutes per side. Yield: 4 servings.

Coconut & Macadamia Mahi-Mahi
1 T flour
pinch sea salt
1/2 t ground ginger
1/2 t black pepper
1 egg, beaten
1/2 C unsweetened coconut flakes
1/4 C macadamia nuts, roughly ground
2 4-oz mahi-mahi filets
1 T olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 F. Combine the flour, salt, pepper and ginger; spread on a plate. Combine the coconut and macadamia on another plate and place the dish with the beaten egg between the two plates. Dredge each piece of fish in the flour mixture, submerge in the egg and then in the nut mixture, completely coating each filet. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high; cook the filets on all sides until golden. Place the browned filets on a baking sheet and finish in the oven to an internal temperature of 130 F. Yield: 2 servings.

Key Lime Pie
1 C graham cracker crumbs
4 egg yolks
1/2 C lime juice
14 oz sweetened condensed milk

Preheat oven to 325 F. Spread crumbs in a 9-inch pie pan and sprinkle with a little water. Using a drinking glass or a measuring cup, press the crumbs evenly along the bottom and sides of the pan; set aside. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and lime juice until doubled in volume. Add the condensed milk and stir just until combined. Pour the filling into the prepared crust and bake until set, about 15 to 20 minutes. Allow to cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Refrigerate for 1 hour before serving. Yield: 12 servings.

Crab and Poblano Quesadilla*
4 oz lump crab meat
1/2 C roasted poblano pepper
2 T chopped cilantro
1 T lime juice
1/4 t sea salt
2 whole-wheat tortillas
pinch cumin
1/2 avocado, sliced
1/4 C diced tomato

Roughly chop the pepper and combine in a small bowl with the cilantro, lime juice and salt. Gently fold in the crab; set aside. Spread one half of the goat cheese over half of each tortilla. Spread equal amounts of the crab mixture over cheese and fold the tortillas in half. Preheat a griddle until hot, but not smoking. Cook the quesadilla until toasted crispy on each side, turning once. Remove to serving platter and slice into four wedges. Sprinkle with cumin; garnish with avocado and tomato. Yield: 2 servings.

Note: All recipes courtesy of Oceania Cruises Bon Appétit Culinary Center on board Marina

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