142 posts categorized " Food & Wine "

November 26, 2014

A Thanksgiving Treat: Franck Garanger's Famous Mashed Potatoes

Thanksgiving1Tomorrow Americans will be giving thanks as they celebrate that most delicious of holidays. It’s hard to dispute that the most essential ingredient in a Thanksgiving feast is the turkey, but in my family, besides the bird, the most important dish was always the mashed potatoes.

Any fans of mashed potatoes sailing with Oceania Cruises this Thanksgiving are in for a real treat, because they will get to enjoy the famous mashed potatoes of Oceania Cruises Culinary Director Franck Garanger. When Garanger was a young apprentice, he was asked to make mashed potatoes for a French master chef – for the chef’s personal lunch, no less! Perfect mashed potatoes are the mark of a great French chef, and Garanger passed the test with flying colors. In fact, the master said they were the best mashed potatoes he had ever eaten, a compliment Chef Garanger has never forgotten.

Having enjoyed these potatoes myself, I can attest to their perfection. They practically melt in your mouth, drenching your palate in rich, creamy, buttery goodness. (Some may consider this blasphemy, but I would happily skip the pumpkin pie and have more of these potatoes for dessert!) Here is the recipe if you’d like to make them for your own Thanksgiving feast:

PotatoesFRANCK GARANGER’S MASHED POTATOES

{SERVES 4 TO 6}

 1 pound medium russet potatoes, peeled

½ cup heavy cream

¼ cup whole milk

Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened at room temperature and cut into pieces

1 teaspoon kosher salt

In a medium saucepan, combine the potatoes with enough salted water to cover them by at least 1 inch, and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Adjust the heat to maintain a simmer and cook until tender when pierced with a paring knife, about 25 minutes. Drain and let cool for 5 minutes.

While the potatoes are cooling, combine the cream, milk, and nutmeg in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the mixture is hot. Remove from the heat.

Pass the potatoes through a potato ricer into a clean saucepan. Place over medium-low heat and stir with a wooden spatula for 5 to 10 minutes to remove any excess water and dry the potatoes.

Gradually stir in the hot cream mixture with the spatula, a little at a time. Adding it slowly allows the potatoes to absorb it gradually, resulting in creamier mashed potatoes. Stir in the butter pieces a few at a time until fully incorporated. Stir in the salt and adjust the seasoning to taste. 

November 10, 2014

Sneak Preview: Celebrity Guest Chefs in 2015

Oceania Cruises BlogImagine sailing to fascinating destinations like Auckland and Cape Town, dining on fresh, local cuisine paired with delicious wine and then returning aboard to mingle with talented celebrity chefs, witness them in action and sample their signature dishes. In just a few short months many of you will embark on our inaugural Around the World in 180 Days voyage in January. Matching the global nature of this journey, several exciting international celebrity chefs will be featured throughout this world cruise.

As a part of this special program, cooking demonstrations and Q&A sessions, as well as other exclusive events will highlight these internationally-renowned chefs. In addition, the Grand Dining Room will spotlight a special signature dish by each celebrity chef. Below is a sneak preview of just a few of the many talented guest chefs joining us on this journey. These chefs will be featured on the particular segments of the Around the World voyage as noted below.

Oceania Cruises BlogIan Pengelley | Renowned chef Ian Pengelley started out in the hospitality industry at just 16 years old as a kitchen porter in a Northamptonshire country club. Four years later, Pengelley relocated to Hong Kong, and discovered his passion for Asian food and culture, which eventually came to shape his illustrious career. He went on to train in Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and China before returning home. Pengelley’s talents are most noted as the launch Head Chef of E&O, Notting Hill in 2001 and as the Executive Chef of critically-acclaimed Gilgamesh for eight years. He has appeared on a number of popular cooking shows, including “Celebrity MasterChef.”

 Chef Pengelley will be featured during Insignia’s Coral Seas & Pacific Havens, Stars of the Pacific and Pacific Sojourn voyages.

Sneak Preview: Celebrity Guest Chefs in 2015Olivier Desaintmartin |  Chef-owner of the celebrated French bistro Caribou Café, Olivier Desaintmartin was born in Champagne, and focuses his culinary expertise on creating dishes inspired by the hearty comfort food from his childhood. His elegant and simple dishes, such as Salade Niçoise, Steak Tartare, Quiche, Boeuf Bourguignon and Cassolette de Champignons, reflect the many regions of France. Desaintmartin has apprenticed with world-renowned chefs such as Michel Guérard, Jacques Chibois, Gaston Lenôtre and Gilbert Le Coze. He was also a champion on Food Network’s “Chopped.”

Chef Desaintmartin will be featured during Insignia’s Pacific Crossing voyage.

Jean Louis Dumonet | Executive Chef of The Union Club in New York and President of Les Maitres Cuisinier du France, Jean Louis Dumonet has established himself on both sides of the Atlantic as one of France’s preeminent culinary talents. Growing up in a family of restaurateurs in Paris sparked an early introduction into the culinary world, and Dumonet began cooking at the young age of 14. He has since had the opportunity to explore and develop his mastery at distinguished restaurants throughout the world, including at his  own Trois Jean Bistro, which was regularly acclaimed as “New York City’s best bistro.”

10557470_10152377926133725_1908591896787460009_nChef Dumonet will be featured during Insignia’s Polynesian Treasures voyage.

Stay tuned for more exciting details and updates as we draw closer to the Around the World voyage departure date!

October 4, 2014

CHEF KELLY'S FAVORITE TAPAS: CHICKPEAS WITH SPINACH, GARLIC & IBERIAN HAM

Yesterday on the blog I shared our culinary adventure in Cádiz and the delicious tapas we enjoyed at El Faro. Today I wanted to share with you what is, without a doubt, my most favorite tapas recipe. I adapted it from a dish I had at Taller de Tapas in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona, and we teach it in our Viva España class in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center on board.

The ingredients are simple, but the secret is the use of very high quality extra virgin olive oil and fresh baby spinach. I usually do not advocate cooking with extra virgin olive oil, but here it is critical to the flavor of the dish. Because you never get this dish smoking hot, the flavor of the oil is maintained. The lemon is also critical, as it brings out the flavors of the dish, particularly the chickpeas. There is no substitute for real jamón Ibérico, but prosciutto will do in a pinch.

CHICKPEAS WITH SPINACH, GARLIC & IBERIAN HAM

{ SERVES 4 }

  • Chickpea Recipe-23 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus additional for drizzling
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped Iberian ham
  • 1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas or 1½ cups cooked fresh chickpeas
  • 1 pound baby spinach
  • Kosher or sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 lemon wedges

In a medium saucepan over low heat, combine the oil, garlic, and ham and heat gently until the garlic softens. Be careful not to burn the garlic or you will have to start over.

When the oil is nicely infused, increase the heat to medium. Add the chickpeas and heat for 2 to 3 minutes, until warmed through. Add the spinach and cook, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes, until the spinach wilts but still has some body. Season to taste with salt and pepper if needed. Garnish with lemon wedges and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. 

I hope you enjoy the recipe! What are your favorite Spanish tapas?

October 3, 2014

CHEF KELLY LAUNCHES 2014 SPANISH CULINARY DISCOVERY TOURS IN CÁDIZ

Cadiz statueAfter a glorious summer in the Baltic, Marina traveled along the Brittany coast and around Portugal to call on several ports in Spain. Today I want to share with you the delightful Andalusian city of Cádiz and our Culinary Discovery Tour focusing on tapas, olives, fish and sherry! 

One of the most influential ports of its time, Cádiz became the center of the culinary universe when Christopher Columbus returned with treasures from the New World. (Imagine Mediterranean cuisine before tomatoes, peppers and potatoes!) Because of its position on global trade routes, Cádiz was where the New World ingredients met the spices of the Far East and the 800-year influences of the Moors and Arabs in the sophisticated cuisine of North Africa and the Levant.

Hanging peppers-2We began our tour of Cádiz with a short stroll along the cobblestone streets, picturesque squares and narrow passageways to the Mercado Central, where I shopped with Chef Jacques Pépin during his last visit. The market was overflowing with freshly caught fish and seafood, from exotic species of shrimp to the pearly white strips of squid, tiras de chocos. Local fish roe, such as huevas frescas de merluza, was a delicacy in abundance this season. Shrimp
The market also offered copious fresh produce, olives, jamón and cheeses, so we selected some for our class later in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center on board. We also picked up two bottles of local Fino and Pedro Ximénez sherries to taste.

 

Another specialty of Cádiz is olive oil. Spain is the largest producer of olive oil in the world, with Andalusia contributing over 50 percent of that yield, thanks to the ideal growing conditions and the passionate dedication to the craft of producing, harvesting and pressing olives. We chose two olive oils for tasting in class: picual and arbequina. Produced locally, the picual varietal creates an extra virgin olive oil with the slight fragrance of dried fruits. The more bitter arbequina is grown farther north and typically used in aioli or salad dressings.

After exploring the market, we walked through the Old Town to El Faro. A Cádiz institution, the restaurant has hundreds of photos of celebrities and politicians crowding the walls, not unlike Sardi’s in New York City. After being seated in the elegant yet friendly surroundings, we were treated to a fabulous tapas luncheon.

El Faro couple Jamon and bar Shrimp omelet

SherryBecause of the abundance of fresh ingredients available to chefs in Cádiz, the cuisine is simple, allowing the ingredients to shine. We enjoyed Iberian pork, shrimp mini-omelets, chickpeas with tripe and cod, and several other delicious tapas. Fresh seafood, exquisite meats, seasonal vegetables, exotic fruits and aromatic olive oils were perfectly complemented by world-famous wines and sherries from this sunny piece of heaven in southern Spain.

After a fond farewell to our hosts, we returned to Marina for a short respite before reconvening in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center. We enjoyed a class on fish cookery and sampled the treasures we found at the market – the perfect ending to the perfect day!

September 5, 2014

CHEF KELLY'S TOP 5 PLATES FOR PASTA LOVERS IN ITALY

This season Riviera has made several calls on one of my favorite culinary destinations – Italy. From Venice to Rome and from gnocchi to fettuccine, it seems like a new pasta dish has tempted me in every port of call. Here are my favorites and the restaurants where you can enjoy them on your next Oceania Cruises voyage:

Gnocchi-2

 

GNOCCHI GORGONZOLA

Ristorante da Raffaele | San Marco 2347 – Venice

Here they’ve mastered the trick to a light, pillowy gnocchi: avoid overworking the dough! Together with a glass of Soave, this was a perfect meal.

 

  Salvatore Seafood Pasta Ravello Pasta
PACCHERI CON GAMBERONI

La Vecchia Cantina | Via della Mara 15 – Ravello (near the port of Amalfi)

On our Culinary Discovery Tour in Ravello, our host Salvatore treated us to a sumptuous pasta made with shrimp and a rich, flavorful stock. A side salad of arugula really brought out the pasta’s flavor.

 

Chef Turi Sicilian Pasta with Fish
PASTA CON PESCE

Osteria Nero D’Avola | Piazza San Domenico 2 – Taormina

In Sicily, pasta is typically served with fish – and rarely with cheese! Chef Turi’s delicious pasta was complemented by bountiful treasures of the sea and a white wine from the Benanti winery on Mount Etna.

 

Roscioli Photo 3
SPAGHETTONE CARBONARA

Roscioli | Via dei Giubbonari 21 – Rome

The most decadent of all pastas, carbonara is made with egg yolks, pecorino Romano cheese and pancetta. This dish was the definition of comfort food.

 

Photo 3-1
FOCACCIA COL FORMAGGIO DI RECCO

Da Ö Vittoriö | Via Roma 160 – Recco (near the port of Portofino)

While some think of focaccia as a pizza-style bread, the Ligurian town of Recco is known for a thin, pasta-like version. On our Culinary Discovery Tour to this third-generation family restaurant, our host stretched an enormous sheet of dough over a pan, added stracchino cheese and another sheet of dough, and served us a piping hot plate of cheesy goodness right out of the oven. Focaccia prep Photo 4-1

 What’s the best pasta dish you’ve ever had and where did you enjoy it?

August 28, 2014

CHEF KELLY ANNOUNCES NEW CARIBBEAN CULINARY DISCOVERY TOURS

At Oceania Cruises, we’re always seeking new opportunities for our guests to experience firsthand the culinary cultures of the marvelous destinations we visit, so I am thrilled to announce two new Culinary Discovery ToursTM that will debut on board Riviera during the upcoming Caribbean season.

St. LuciaSt. Lucia - Spices Cooking Studio

Accompanied by your Bon Appétit Culinary Center chef, you’ll begin your tour with a scenic drive along Rodney Bay to a magnificent private estate situated on the grounds of a former sugarcane plantation. You’ll explore the estate’s expansive herb garden and then head inside the home for some hands-on cooking instruction. Learn about the subtle flavors and historical influences of St. Lucian cuisine while preparing an authentic meal using fresh local ingredients. Savor your creations while dining alfresco and taking in the breathtaking views of the sea and surrounding landscapes. On the return drive to the pier, you’ll stop at the bustling open-air Castries Market, where farmers have sold locally grown fruits, vegetables and spices for nearly 100 years.

L1030781Antigua – Market Visit & Cooking Demo

In the center of downtown St. John’s, walk to the local market with your Bon Appétit Culinary Center chef, who will show you a wide variety of local fruits, such as breadfruit, mangoes, soursop, dasheen and possibly even the famous Antiguan black pineapple, known as the world’s sweetest. A short, but scenic, journey takes you to the Villas at Sunset Lane, a charming beachfront oasis owned by renowned Chef Jacquie, who will invite you into her kitchen to help prepare lunch. Chef Jacquie shops daily from local organic farmers and will share her secrets for shopping and eating seasonally. Following a hands-on cooking demonstration, enjoy a lunch of local favorites while taking in fabulous vistas of the lush gardens, private beach and sparkling bay.  

The following sailings offer your first opportunity to experience these new Culinary Discovery Tours. We hope you’ll join us!

December 23, 2014: Holidays in the Tropics, Miami to Miami (Riviera, 12 days)

January 24, 2015: Island Paradise, Miami to Miami (Riviera, 10 days)

February 23, 2015: Island Paradise, Miami to Miami (Riviera, 10 days)

 

August 12, 2014

DARINA ALLEN'S BLACKBERRY VODKA RECIPE

In yesterday’s blog I told of my wonderful outing with Jacques Pépin to the Ballymaloe estate in County Cork, Ireland, the site of one of our newest Culinary Discovery Tours. Our host was Darina Allen, founder of the Ballymaloe Cookery School, and I thought you might enjoy this recipe from her latest book (which I highly recommend!), celebrating the 30-year anniversary of the school. It’s an infused vodka, and Darina notes that she uses orange rind, wild garlic, rhubarb, peaches and apricots as seasonal substitutions for the blackberries shown below.

 

DSC_6616
Ballymaloe matriarch Myrtle Allen, Jacques Pépin and Darina Allen

DARINA ALLEN'S BLACKBERRY VODKA

{makes one pint}

 

  • 1 ¼ pounds (600 grams) fresh, organic blackberries
  • 1 ½ pounds (600 grams) fine sugar
  • 1 pint vodka
  • 3 sweet geranium leaves

 

Put all the ingredients into a sterilized jar and set aside in a cool, dark place to mature for two months, shaking the contents every few days to dissolve the sugar.

After two to three months, strain, reserving the “booze-sodden” blackberries, which can be served with yogurt, panna cotta or a fruit salad. Return the strained vodka (or gin, if you prefer) to the bottle and store in a cool, dark place. Ideally the mix will be drunk within three to four months, but it can keep for up to a year.

August 11, 2014

CHEF KELLY HOSTS JACQUES PÉPIN AT BALLYMALOE IN IRELAND

We thoroughly enjoyed this year’s Signature Sailing with Jacques Pépin – his cooking demonstrations, book signings and informal visits to the Bon Appétit Culinary Center. He is always eager to meet our students and see what’s cooking in our onboard culinary studio.

We especially enjoyed our call on Cobh, Ireland, where I hosted Jacques for a day at Ballymaloe Cookery School, the location of one of our newest Culinary Discovery ToursTM. Founded in 1983 by Darina Allen and Rory O’Connell, the Ballymaloe Cookery School is a bucket list destination for food enthusiasts. Allen is one of the leaders of the famed Slow Food movement in Ireland, dedicated to preserving biodiversity and artisan food production. Located on 100 acres, the school utilizes the vegetables, fruits and herbs from their organic gardens and greenhouses. They also maintain their own pigs, ducks, chickens and a small herd of Jersey cattle from which they make the most delicious buttermilk (perfect for Irish breads), yogurt, butter and cheeses.

Ballymaloe Cookery School

Ballymaloe Cookery School 2

Ballymaloe is a family affair, and Darina’s son-in-law manages a Slow Food consortium of farmers’ markets in County Cork. We began with a stroll through the lively morning market where Jacques and I checked out the local fishmonger and explored this week’s last harvest of berries and an impressive array of root vegetables. 

Market 3 Market 1

Market 2

 

Then we were off to Ballymaloe, where the teaching kitchens were bustling with students and their cooking assignments. The school offers everything from a 12-week certificate program to 3-hour demonstration classes.

We were greeted by Darina’s son, Toby, our host for a tour of the cookery school gardens. Our tour began at the culinary herb garden (complete with a lady scarecrow) and Lydia’s Garden, a miniature Versailles. Jacques stopped to smell the herbs and noticed some snails in the hedgerow – so we had an impromptu lecture on snails. (What doesn’t Jacques Pépin know about food?!)

Garden 1

Garden 3

Garden 2

The bountiful greenhouses were brimming with tomatoes, squash, fruits, herbs and lettuces – all lovingly maintained. Behind the greenhouse are the perennial gardens, herbaceous borders, and the Shell House. In the Shell House, the entire surface – walls and ceiling – is decorated with shells in patterns that resemble the intricate and delicate mosaics of Turkey and the Middle East. It’s overwhelmingly beautiful and difficult to capture in a photograph – so you’ll have to come on a cruise with us to see it!

Greenhouse 1

Greenhouse 2  Greenhouse 3


Back Garden 2

Back Garden 1

Shell House 1

Shell House 2

JP and ChickensTo conclude our walking tour, we took the farm path that passes the chicken house, where happy chickens strolled around the yard and munched on the kitchen scraps from the morning’s cooking class. We also stopped into the dairy and were able to observe the mis en place for an upcoming demonstration on the making of yogurt, buttermilk, butter and cheese. 

For lunch, we traveled to Ballymaloe House, an elegant restaurant and hotel owned and lovingly operated by the Allen family. There we met Myrtle Allen, the family matriarch who, with her husband, founded the culinary empire that is now Ballymaloe. We were also joined at lunch by Darina, who regaled us with stories of how her family developed this 100-acre farm into the celebrated establishment it is today.

DSC_6616Jacques had brought a few of his books to share with Darina, and she asked him to sign several of his books that she had in her personal library. It was so special to see these two teaching icons together in one place and enjoying each other’s company. I was often pinching myself because it was so amazing to be in the company of two of my idols and mentors, surrounded by the dreamlike setting of Ballymaloe.

The Signature Sailing with Jacques Pépin is always one of my favorites, and our visit to Ballymaloe will always be a cherished memory. Check the blog tomorrow for Darina's recipe for blackberry vodka and in the coming weeks for the announcement of next year’s Jacques Pépin cruise! If you've ever sailed with us on a Jacques Pépin cruise, what was your fondest memory?

August 5, 2014

JACQUES PEPIN'S SIGNATURE ROTISSERIE CHICKEN RECIPE

Guests on board Marina enjoyed culinary demonstrations, special shore excursions and more on the annual cruise hosted by legendary master chef Jacques Pépin. As executive culinary director for Oceania Cruises, Pépin has led our team of talented chefs in crafting the exquisite cuisine for which we are renowned.

IMG_7765 - Version 2In the Grand Dining Room, Pépin’s signature rotisserie chicken has always been a cornerstone of the nightly menu. This French classic is also served in Pépin’s namesake restaurant, Jacques, on board Marina and Riviera, where you can watch the herb-crusted chicken roast to succulent perfection on the gleaming display rotisserie.

In celebration of the recent Jacques Pépin Cruise, we’re sharing Pépin’s signature recipe. The secret is both the seasoning blend and the cooking method. Many grills now have rotisserie attachments, so give the recipe a try at home, or we’re of course happy to prepare it for you any evening on board one of our ships!

 

0IFC 1-37 Europe 2012_BrandingJACQUES’ ROTISSERIE CHICKEN
{ SERVES 4 }
 
SEASONING BLEND
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons dried thyme
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon dried sage
1½ teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
¼ cup kosher salt
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground ginger
¾ teaspoon ground coriander
¾ teaspoon ground mace
½ teaspoon ground white pepper
½ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
 
1 whole chicken, 4½ to 5 pounds, trimmed of excess fat
 
Canola oil
Fleur de sel

FOR THE SEASONING BLEND: In a spice grinder, combine the bay leaves, thyme, rosemary, sage, basil, and oregano and grind to a coarse powder. Transfer the ground mixture to a small bowl and stir in the salt, paprika, ginger, coriander, mace, white pepper, cloves, and cardamom.

FOR THE CHICKEN: Rotisserie and grill set-up will vary depending on the manufacturer, so follow the instructions provided with your equipment. For a grill that has a separate burner or infrared heating element for the rotisserie, preheat that area to medium-high and preheat the grill under the rotisserie to medium.

Place the chicken on a work surface and place a long piece of kitchen twine under the wings. Bring the twine up around the chicken and tie, securing the wings against the bird. Tie the drumsticks together with a separate piece of twine. Trussing the chicken will help it cook more evenly.

TO SEASON AND COOK THE CHICKEN: Rub the chicken with an even coating of the seasoning blend. You won’t need all of it. Store the remainder in an airtight container at room temperature for future use. Lightly dab the surface of the seasoned chicken with canola oil to help the spice blend adhere.

Secure the chicken to the rotisserie rod using the prongs provided. Cook, adjusting the heat as needed to keep the chicken skin from becoming too dark as the meat cooks. The chicken is done when a kitchen thermometer inserted into the meatiest part of the thigh without touching the bone registers 165°F, about 1½ hours.

TO SERVE: Remove the chicken from the rotisserie and let rest for 10 minutes. Cut into serving pieces and arrange on a platter. Sprinkle with fleur de sel.

July 9, 2014

ALASKA AND REGATTA: THE PERFECT COMBINATION

By Jason Lasecki, Senior Director of Public Relations

The hottest thing on cable television these days seems to be America’s 49th state. With shows ranging from Alaska State Troopers and Deadliest Catch to Buying Alaska and Wild Alaska, there is a never-ending fascination with America’s last frontier, and with good reason. Alaska offers some of the most picturesque and pristine natural settings in the world, and there’s no better way to experience the wonderment of Alaska than on board the newly refurbished Regatta.

Having recently sailed on the 10-night Majesty of Alaska voyage, it’s clear to me that the beauty and splendor of Alaska coupled with the elegance and style of Regatta create a magical and memorable combination.

Regatta

The ship itself was immaculate, and the additions made during the refurbishment, such as Baristas coffee bar and the cook-to-order grill at Terrace Café, were a huge hit with guests sailing on Regatta. Many guests congregated at the redesigned Horizons bar to soak in some musical entertainment and incredible Alaskan vistas, while others enjoyed sipping a cocktail at the restyled Martinis.   

Baristas(New)

Horizons(New)

Oceania Cruises is well known for having the finest cuisine at sea, and when it’s paired with one of Alaska’s stunning late evening sunsets, you’re assured an amazing dining experience. While enjoying an exquisite dinner one particular evening at Toscana, we were treated to a painted sky sunset as the ship sailed a scenic fjord, passing by glimmering waterfalls and soaring bald eagles.

Sunset

The intimate nature of Oceania Cruises’ mid-size ships allows the staff to provide attentive personalized service to each guest, and the ideally sized ships offer an additional advantage when cruising Alaska because the captain can provide closer and more breathtaking views of one of Alaska’s premier attractions—the glaciers! During our visit to Hubbard Glacier, we were so close we could hear popping sounds as sheets of ice calved into the ocean.

Hubbard Glacier

Hubbard Glacier 2

One of the highlights of any Alaska cruise is the wildlife. Whales, bears, eagles, otters and seals are abundant, and Oceania Cruises offers a wide array of shore excursions that provide you the best opportunities to see these majestic animals. Definitely a sight to remember was a pod of orcas that paid our boat a visit during a whale-watching tour in Juneau. Wildlife is everywhere and it’s common to spot whales, eagles, seals and sea lions from the comfort of Regatta.

Orca Pod 2

Orca Pod

Speaking of wildlife, we came across this guy while on a nature hike in Hoonah. Readers, any clue on what species of bird this is?

Bird

June 23, 2014

THE BOUNTY OF PROVENCE INSPIRES RATATOUILLE RECIPES

Is there a more glorious season than summer in the south of France? The markets of Marseille, Nice, Antibes and other coastal towns are bursting with color from the abundance of fresh vegetables. In the Bon Appétit Culinary Center on board Riviera, we’re celebrating the bounty of Provence by making one of the region’s signature dishes, ratatouille, and we’ve shared our recipe here. Feel free to substitute whatever veggies are fresh and in season at your hometown market, or come join us on a Riviera sailing where you can shop the local markets and learn to prepare this classic dish in the very region where it was invented!

Peppers

Garlic

Zucchini Tomatoes
 

Classic Ratatouille

{ serves 6 }

½ cup olive oil


1 medium eggplant, trimmed (not peeled) and diced

3 medium zucchini, trimmed (not peeled) and diced

3 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, and diced

2 large onions, diced                                                                                                                 

5 to 6 garlic cloves, very finely chopped

¼ cup white wine

4 to 5 fresh or canned tomatoes, diced

Kosher or sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 to 2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 sprig thyme

1 sprig marjoram

1 tablespoon herbes de Provence    

6 to 10 Niçoise olives (optional)

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Sauté the eggplant for about 8 minutes, until cooked. Remove the eggplant from the pan and set aside. Carefully wipe out the pan with a paper towel.

     Heat 2 more tablespoons of the oil in the same pan and sauté the zucchini until soft but not brown. Remove from the pan and set aside. Wipe out the pan.

     Heat 2 more tablespoons of the oil in the same pan and sauté the bell pepper until soft but not brown. Remove from the pan and set aside. Wipe out the pan.

     Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in the same pan and sauté the onion for about 10 minutes, until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and then immediately add the wine. Cook until most of the wine has evaporated and the mixture is nearly dry, or “sec.” Add the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 3 to 5 minutes, until the tomatoes are cooked. 

     Add 1 tablespoon of the tomato paste to enrich the sauce. Add the remaining tablespoon if desired, but be careful not to add too much tomato paste as it can overpower the vegetables. Add the eggplant, zucchini, and bell pepper to the tomato mixture and incorporate well. Top the mixture with thyme, marjoram, and herbes de Provence.

     Cover and warm on low heat. Do not cook the mixture; merely heat until the vegetables are warm. Garnish with olives if desired.

 

June 18, 2014

A RED GINGER FAVORITE: LOBSTER PAD THAI

Today we’re sharing our recipe for Lobster Pad Thai, one of the most popular dishes served at the onboard restaurant Red Ginger. There are many variations; our version is light, fragrant and not too spicy – although you can certainly add extra kick if your palate prefers! We hope you’ll try the recipe at home or come taste the Asian creations of our talented chefs on board – either in Red Ginger restaurant on Marina and Riviera, or in the Grand Dining Room on Regatta, Insignia and Nautica where dishes from Red Ginger are featured nightly.

LOBSTER PAD THAI

IMG_0160 - Version 23 cups rice noodles
2 tablespoons tamarind paste
½ cup warm water
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon tamari sauce or light soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons palm sugar
2 tablespoons nam prik pao (optional)
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons peanut oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced ginger
3 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 small leek, thinly sliced
1 cup lobster, shrimp, chicken, or pressed tofu pieces
2 eggs, beaten
¼ cup coarsely chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
2 lime wedges
1 tablespoon chopped roasted peanuts
1 tablespoon slivered daikon radish, salted (optional)

Soak the rice noodles in warm water according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Drain well.

In a small bowl, whisk the tamarind paste in the water until dissolved. Add the fish sauce, tamari sauce, rice wine vinegar, and palm sugar. For a spicy dish, add the nam prick pao. Whisk well and set aside.

Lay out the remaining ingredients and garnishes in the order they will be used, so you will be able to work quickly.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the peanut oil in a wok over high heat. When the oil is hot, add the garlic, ginger, and two-thirds of the scallions, reserving the remaining scallions for garnish. Heat for 30 seconds to release the aromas, moving the ingredients constantly to avoid burning them. Push the garlic, ginger, and scallions up one side of the wok, off the direct heat. Add the leek and cook for about 1 minute, until it softens. Push the leek up the side of the wok. Add the lobster and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until it turns opaque. Mix the lobster with the garlic, ginger, scallions, and leeks.

Working quickly, add the remaining 2 teaspoons of oil and the eggs and scramble lightly. Then add the prepared noodles and sauce and stir-fry everything for about 1 minute, just until the noodles are warm. Fold in the cilantro. Taste and adjust seasoning with additional fish sauce and nam prik pao if needed. Remove from the heat and drizzle with the toasted sesame oil. Quickly transfer the pad Thai to plates or bowls.

Garnish with the lime wedges, peanuts, the reserved scallions, and the radish. Serve immediately.

June 17, 2014

SUMMER BREWS ON A CULINARY DISCOVERY TOUR IN OSLO

My friend and colleague Chef Annie B. Copps led guests on a fabulous Culinary Discovery Tour in Oslo to kick off the Baltic season. Check out her blog below:

The Scandinavian port of Oslo, Norway, was the perfect place to kick off a series of Culinary Discovery Tours as Marina makes the Baltic Sea home for the summer months. After a long and cold winter, Norwegians have been bursting with anticipation for the arrival of summer, and we were warmly welcomed to Oslo by enthusiastic locals enjoying a bright and sunny day. We explored the historic streets of the city and toasted the wonderful weather with the region’s favorite summer beverage – beer!

We were greeted by beer aficionado Bjerte at his beer academy, a downtown spot dedicated to the study of beer. Fortunately for us, this study involved tasting. We learned about the history of beer in the Norwegian culture and the growing popularity of artisanal and home brewing. After tasting both a commercial pilsner and artisanal Belgian ale, we were off to the Mathallen Food Hall.

Beer Academy

Commercial and Artisanal beer

The short walk through Oslo to the Food Hall was particularly beautiful with all the trees and flowers in bloom. We crossed the Aker River and arrived at Mathallen, located in a former rail works building along the riverbank. We strolled among the neatly arranged food stalls, and guests sampled cheese, smoked fish, cured meats, pastries and chocolate.

Aker River

Mathallen Food Hall

Bjerte led us to his eatery, Oltorget, where we sampled more beer – this time paired with cheese. Pouring our beer was Kim Daniel, who is a master bartender and champion beer pourer. He won top honors at the annual championship in the Czech Republic, which requires knowledge of pouring techniques and the brew’s history. The two masters served a tart beer paired with fresh, tangy goat cheese, followed by a rich porter matched with an aged blue cheese. Perfection!

Oltorget at Mathallen-Kim and Bjerte

Oltorget Beer List Porter beer

Next we enjoyed lunch at a restaurant called Smalhans, a word of German origin that loosely translates as "frugal." The restaurant is so named because it sources seasonal local produce and ingredients to create an ever-changing menu of simple yet delectable dishes offered at a remarkable value. A light, warm potato salad laced with artichokes, roasted red peppers and capers in a light vinaigrette was served alongside fresh asparagus and a red fish called uer fisk. (Search the internet for an image of this fish and you’ll see it looks like something out of Dr. Seuss!) A light Weissen, or wheat beer, was served with our main course. For dessert, ruby red strawberries over panna cotta were paired with a hearty stout that mimics many of the flavors of coffee. It was an excellent end to a delightful summer day of perfect pairings in beautiful Oslo.

Smallhans meal

June 13, 2014

FARM-TO-TABLE CUISINE ON A NEW CULINARY DISCOVERY TOUR IN COUNTY CORK

As I continue the Culinary Discovery ToursTM with our guests on Riviera, the delightful and talented Chef Annie B. Copps is hosting guests on board Marina. Below is a blog from Chef Annie about our exciting new tour in County Cork, Ireland:

Local. Seasonal. Sustainable. It is wonderful that these words are part of our culinary vocabulary—and even more wonderful that this is not a passing trend, but an age-old model that so many chefs and farmers strive to embrace. On Oceania Cruises' newest Culinary Discovery Tour, Marina guests visited the Ballymaloe Cookery School, where they practice this philosophy today and have been for decades, even before it was “cool.”

Ballymaloe Cookery School

The Ballymaloe estate is a short drive through the spectacular County Cork countryside of rolling hills covered with verdant crops, ancient castles, small villages and herds of cows and sheep. Ballymaloe consists of a hotel, market shop, professional cooking school and a certified organic working farm with both crops and livestock. Our tour began with a history of the Allen family, who have worked the land for three generations, and then a walking tour of the beautiful grounds. Each of the many gardens we visited seemed like a secret spot that we luckily happened upon, because each is separated by intricate topiaries, canopies and trellises—it all felt a bit like the work of fairies. There were also large open fields filled with sculptures. One garden was entirely herbs and artichokes. Another was cutting flowers, and a third grew potatoes and carrots. One had chickens running about. The family also maintains a large greenhouse, which was filled with tomatoes of all sorts ready to be picked.

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After our jaunt we settled in for a cooking lesson taught by Chef Pamela Black, whose bright red hair, soft giggle and twinkle in her eye belied her serious cooking talent. For all the good food we saw growing, the proof was indeed in the pudding. Chef Pam demonstrated traditional Irish soda bread, butterflied chicken breast and potatoes boiled with a touch of fresh mint. I can’t remember a potato tasting better than these, which were pulled from the ground that morning.

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We also enjoyed a salad of freshly picked greens and a lovely soft meringue filled with fresh strawberries—the first of the season. It was a simple meal, but an honest one made with ingredients almost entirely from the property. The exceptions were the wheat, olive oil and the chickens, which came from another local farm. At Ballymaloe they use their chickens for their eggs and get whole chickens from others to support their neighbors—also part of sustainability.

With full bellies and happy hearts, we made our way back home to Marina for a stunning sail away from the harbor of Cobh. I can’t wait to return and share this wonderful experience with more Oceania Cruises guests!

May 27, 2014

CULINARY ADVENTURES WITH CHEF KELLY IN ISTANBUL

The city of Istanbul is as remarkable for its breathtaking skyline as it is for its exquisite food found in the labyrinth of winding streets and neighborhoods below. The Turks love food and are proud of their culinary heritage, so hosting a Culinary Discovery Tour here is as much about meeting the people as it is about tasting the delicious cuisine.

Our first destination was Istanbul’s famous spice market. As we approached the market, the tantalizing smells of roasting eggplant, searing kabobs, and pide baking in wood-fired ovens emanated from the restaurants and market stalls lining the streets. As we entered, the bright lights and vibrant colors invited us to explore.

Spice Market

In the first spice shop we visited, we were treated to a lesson on how to tell real saffron from the many imposters one can find all around the Mediterranean. When you put the stamen of saffron in warm water, real saffron will turn the water an amber-gold color, while fake saffron will leave the water a pale yellow. Considering this exquisite spice is one of the most expensive in the world, you certainly want to ensure you’re getting the real deal!

Market-Saffron

Our next stop was a cheese shop where we compared fresh goat’s milk cheese to a more aged variety. We then visited a shop with cured meats and other delicacies. Finally, we were off to the fish market to check out the fresh catch of the day and savor the fish roasting on open grills. I had brought with me a chart listing the fish of the Mediterranean, so we were able to expertly identify sea bass, sea bream, snails, blue fish, flounder and much more. I took this opportunity to go over the things I look for when buying fresh fish: bright eyes, hearty flesh, scales and fins intact, no belly-burn from being packed in ice, maroon-colored gill flesh and a fresh sea smell.

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Market-Fish

Market-Fish 2

We then toured the Grand Bazaar, one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world, before heading to the Turkish Cultural Center for lunch at NAR, a restaurant that offers authentic Ottoman Turkish cuisine in a modern setting. Here we were served a tasty selection of dozens of dishes, each meant to be enjoyed in one to three bites as part of a degustation that formed a mosaic of tastes, flavors, textures and sensations. What an absolutely exquisite and delightful culinary experience!

NAR Table

NAR Food

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NAR Food 3

 

After lunch we were treated to a mouthwatering demonstration of traditional candy making. The candy, caramel rolled in mastic sugar, had a hint of mild pine that was both unique and delicious! Everyone was very impressed by the master candy maker and his apprentice.

Candy Maker

Candy Maker 2

Our day in Istanbul was a wonderful start to a fantastic voyage through some of my favorite culinary destinations in the Mediterranean!

May 5, 2014

SIGNATURE SAILINGS: YOUR WORLD AND BEYOND

As if visiting the world’s most fascinating destinations weren’t enticing enough, Oceania Cruises also offers several Signature Sailings with guest celebrities and special events to enhance your remarkable vacation.

In a recent blog, I wrote about the Viking Passage Signature Sailing, featuring hall of fame broadcaster Verne Lundquist. But he won’t be the only special guest on board this transoceanic voyage. Barbara Seagram, an American Contract Bridge League accredited master instructor, will be on board to conduct classes and tournaments.

If bridge is your passion, there are eight other opportunities to see the world and improve your bridge game with American Contract Bridge League instructors on board between May and December. 

Jaques PepinWorld-renowned master chef Jacques Pépin, who is the executive culinary director for Oceania Cruises, will be on board the Explore the Isles sailing, which departs July 23 and sails roundtrip from London. Guests will enjoy special signature menus, engaging lectures, culinary demonstrations and much more.

Departing June 10, Historic Holy Lands will be an especially noteworthy Signature Sailing as it celebrates the return of Insignia to the Oceania Cruises INSIGNIA_008fleet. Founding Chairman Joe Watters will host this gala voyage aboard the newly refurbished Insignia with his wife, Virginia, who is Insignia’s godmother. Guests will be treated to a number of exclusive events and festivities, including a momentous rechristening ceremony in Istanbul.

 

OceaniaClubCrestLargeAlways a special occasion for Oceania Cruises’ valued past guests, the 11th Oceania Club Reunion Cruise promises a memorable Signature Sailing when Riviera departs on the Gems of Antiquity voyage on July 29. Reunion cruises honor our cherished Oceania Club members, and this year’s cruise will feature a private cocktail reception hosted by the Captain as well as exclusive shore excursions in Istanbul, Santorini and Kusadasi, among other celebratory events.

From Europe to Africa and South America to the South Pacific, don’t miss your opportunity to explore your world and beyond on one of Oceania Cruises' special Signature Sailings.

May 2, 2014

CHEF KELLY LAUNCHES NEW CULINARY DISCOVERY TOUR IN RAVELLO

Perched high above the Amalfi Coast, Ravello is a festive and enchanting village that I have been visiting for decades. I’ve been eager to share this town’s charms with Oceania Cruises’ guests for some time, so I am very excited to be launching the new Culinary Discovery Tour: Ravello Lunch & Amalfi Chocolate Demo

As with all of our Culinary Discovery Tours, I seek out markets, restaurants and culinary venues that capture the essence of the people and uniqueness of the cuisine of each destination. Last year, with the help of my friends Margarita and Salvatore, I set out to design an authentic Ravello experience Ravello Duomo
for our guests. This brother and sister team is so excited to share their love of Ravello. Margarita runs a ceramics shop with her father. Cosmolena, whom we all affectionately call “Papa,” is a master painter whose ceramic artwork has been exported all over the world, including my home in Florida. Margarita’s brother, Salvatore, operates a restaurant that serves fresh, local Mediterranean seafood as well as sumptuous pastas and sinful desserts. You can bet that I tried as many dishes as possible before settling on the menu for this Culinary Discovery Tour!

Riviera’s recent stop in Amalfi marked the first time I led guests on this new tour. After a brief but beautiful drive up to Ravello from the port, we had some free time to explore the small piazza or simply sit in the shadow of the Duomo and people watch over a cup of coffee. 

Then we gathered for a short walk to our luncheon spot, where Salvatore greeted us with a glass of chilled limoncello. Next door at the ceramics shop, Ceramiche Cosmolena, there was a bowl of Amalfi lemons with a “Welcome Chef Kelly” sign (made by Papa), and guests were invited to select one of the famous lemons and take home a bit of Ravello. Papa told me he how pleased he was with the success of his children’s businesses and that, even though he is now retired, he comes to the shop and restaurant every day. He is such a dear man, and I am thrilled that Margarita is carrying on the tradition of beautiful ceramics and warm hospitality.

Salvatore Greets

Lemons CK and Papa

Melon slices

We then took our seats for lunch overlooking the Amalfi Coast, starting with fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced ham and freshly cut melon, sliced minutes before serving. The wine was flowing and the conversation was lively and relaxed.

Because this tour offers an insider’s look at an Italian family restaurant, guests were invited to watch the chefs as they prepared and plated the dishes.  Guests learned some of the secrets behind the next course, a delicious pasta in an exquisite shrimp sauce, served with a big smile by Salvatore. Next was a local branzino, or sea bass, in a light broth with local cherry tomatoes and a side salad of crisp greens. The combination of the fish and the greens was unforgettable! 

 

 

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Chefs

Salvatore with Food

Branzino
After a dessert of lemon tiramisu and a strong espresso, we said our goodbyes and headed down the winding road back to Amalfi. (Thank goodness for our local bus driver!)

CK and Salvatore

In Amalfi we toured another multigenerational business – Pasticceria Pansa – where we tasted candied lemon peels from the family garden, chocolates with hazelnuts, and a lemon sorbet. It was a marvelous day filled with delicious treats and the chance to learn about traditions passed down for generations in local family-owned businesses.

Pasticceria Pansa 1

Pasticceria Pansa 2 Pasticceria Pansa 3
 

April 28, 2014

CULINARY DISCOVERIES IN NICE AND ÈZE

I cannot imagine a more glorious reception than the one we had in Monte Carlo. Everyone on board Riviera awoke to a beautiful spring morning, and I opened my drapes to a blue sky that took my breath away. Soon we were all happily preparing for the day’s adventures in another magical port of call.

Several guests joined me for a Culinary Discovery Tour to two of my favorite destinations, Nice and Èze. We started the morning in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center, using my trusty map as a guide to review the various influences on the cuisine of Nice. We discussed the ancient spice trade that brought flavors from lands as distant as Asia and Africa, and we also looked at culinary trends from the regions of Savoy and northern France that migrated into Provence, all influencing the cuisine of Nice in subtle yet distinctive ways.

Traveling to the market in Nice, we discovered the usual eye-popping rainbow of colors, made even more spectacular by the fresh flowers available this time of year. Lilacs were in bloom and paired with white roses in elegant bouquets, and my personal favorite, peonies, were overflowing in all shades of pink, including a tangerine color I had never seen before.

Nice Flowers

Nice Lilacs Nice Peonies

After stopping to smell the flowers, we were on to the produce, where we found an abundance of asparagus, peas, fava beans and artichokes. We also shopped for olive oils before making a requisite stop at my favorite chocolate shop, Maison Auer, to see the last of their exquisite Easter eggs. 

Nice Market Guest

Nice Market guests

Nice Aspargus

Nice Veggies Nice Chocolate

We then savored a bite of peppery socca, the Nice specialty made with chickpea flour and olive oil, fried like a pancake and served in paper cones with lots of salt and pepper. We were disappointed to learn that our favorite socca vendor had retired, but happy to discover that her replacement was making a creamy socca that was equally delicious.

After a refreshing snack, we headed to Èze, a medieval town perched at the top of a mountain overlooking the Côte d’Azur. This is our third year offering a Culinary Discovery Tour to Èze in which we visit the grand Château Eza. Today the chef of Château Eza prepared seasonal favorites: a salad of baby lettuces atop a mousse of garden greens, a cream of asparagus soup, and an entrée of sea bass with braised fennel and artichoke purée. The dessert was a mille-feuille of chocolate mousse with a hint of citrus. As always, it was an impeccable meal served with local wines and enhanced by unparalleled views. Everyone always loves coming here, and I love sharing this unforgettable experience with our foodie guests.

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CE Salad CE Soup CE Sea Bass

CE Dessert CE View

We returned to port with time to spare, so we all headed in different directions to explore Monte Carlo. I stopped by the gardens of Princess Margaret, where I called my mom and relived a few memories from our 2008 trip on Insignia to celebrate her 80th birthday. Oceania Cruises has been such an important part of so many people's lives and travel memories, and my family is no exception. As I strolled through the gardens, I saw many familiar flowers of spring and one that I had never seen, the black petunia, majestic and sensuous! I love discovering new things when I travel!

PM Garden

PM Garden 2 PM Black Petunia

What an amazing day of culinary discoveries in Nice and Èze, topped off by a lovely jaunt through Monte Carlo! Next we head to the Pitti winery and the market in Livorno for a day of pizza, focaccia and biscotti in the Tuscan countryside. It doesn't get any better than this!

April 25, 2014

SPRINGTIME IN PROVENCE WITH CHEF KELLY

It's spring in Provence! And what better way to kick off Riviera's 2014 season in the Mediterranean than a Culinary Discovery Tour in Marseille.

We began in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center on board, gathered around my map of the Mediterranean for a review of the day’s itinerary and a discussion of the cuisines of France. Several guests were new to Oceania Cruises and the culinary center, so it was a thrill to introduce them to the culinary culture that is part of Oceania Cruises’ DNA.

CKMap

Eager to experience Provence firsthand, we went ashore for a stroll through the market of Sanary-sur-Mer, a quaint village where the fish is unbelievably fresh and the seasonal produce is of the highest quality imaginable. On this beautiful spring day, we found baby artichokes, white asparagus, green fava beans and piquant radishes. 

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Asparagus

Beans Artichokes

Baby Artichokes

Radish

MiravalWe also came across a shop that was carrying the new Miraval Rosé from the historic Provençal winery that was resurrected by Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. The wine has received rave reviews, so I snagged two bottles to try this summer. It will be the perfect complement to a Niçoise salad and an afternoon spent relaxing by the swimming pool. 

MacaroonsAfter shopping for herbes de Provence and other local treasures, I bought some macaroons bursting with coconut flavor to share with guests during our bus ride to the Domaine de Souviou winery. It was the perfect sweet treat!

When we arrived at the winery, we stretched our legs a bit on a lovely tour of the groves of thousand-year-old olive trees. Then we were treated to a luncheon prepared by our friend and host, Chef Gui Gedda, who is known as the godfather of Provençal cuisine. Chef Gedda serves something different every time we visit, and today we were treated to market-fresh vegetable soup with chickpeas and fresh marjoram, as well as the classic Provençal dish of tomate farcie, a slow-roasted, veal-stuffed tomato. We also enjoyed a delicious Cannes-style poule au pot, a chicken mousse wrapped in chicken thigh and served over rice with a light cream sauce. We ended the meal with crème au pain d’épices, a magical dessert resembling bread pudding that perfectly complimented the day, the wine and the company.

Olive Grove

Gui

Tomate Farcie

Poule au Pot Creme au Pain

After saying goodbye to our friends at Domaine de Souviou, we returned to the ship for a cooking lesson on preparing fish in the Provence style. Guests made a delightful shrimp Provençal as well as a Provençal version of the Italian acqua pazza, a dish of seared fish with tomatoes, Niçoise olives and wine.

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All in all, it was a spectacular day, and this season of Culinary Discovery ToursTM promises many more to come. Next stop is Monte Carlo and a meal at Château Eza. Yum!

April 23, 2014

COOKING UP NEW CLASSES AND TOURS IN THE BON APPETIT CULINARY CENTER

The excitement continues on board Marina and Riviera as we introduce a new season of Bon Appétit Culinary Center classes and Culinary Discovery ToursTM. We’re launching a total of 21 new classes in the culinary center this year, and four of those will debut during this season in Europe. We're also IMG_6518 - Version 2unveiling two brand new Culinary Discovery Tours this summer, and we’ve added some wonderful new experiences to favorite tours of years past. All in all, it promises to be the most fun season yet!

Our new classes this season feature a diverse array of regional cuisines from every corner of the European continent. Our classes on Greek cuisine have always been some of my favorites, and the new Healthy Greek class is no exception. In this class you can learn flavorful recipes inspired by the famously healthy dietary lifestyle of Crete, and you’ll also learn to make the prized tomato fritters from Selene Restaurant on Santorini. The Modern Nordic class features treats such as salted caramel ice cream and other fresh, inventive dishes reflecting the latest trends of edgy Nordic restaurants such as Noma and Geranium. If, like me, you find Turkish culture intriguing, you can discover the secrets of the country’s cuisine in our new Turkish Arabesque class. Focusing on the renowned cuisine of Provence, Beyond Ratatouille offers the chance to make the favorite dishes of our own Jacques Pépin as well as Gui Gedda, considered the godfather of Provençal cuisine.

I'm especially excited about the launch of our brand new Culinary Discovery Tours in Cork and Palma de Mallorca. The beauty of the Ballymaloe country estate in Cork is reason enough to visit, but when you add in a private tour of the gardens and a cooking demonstration and tasting at the world-renowned cooking school located there, it becomes an experience not to be missed. Palma de Mallorca is also sure to be a hit, as we’ll shop the local market, sample different varieties of olive oil and dine at El Faro, a restaurant perched above the harbor where the view is only rivaled by the fabulous Mediterranean menu. We’ve also enhanced our Culinary Discovery Tours in Amalfi and Sicily with new restaurants such as the renowned Osteria Nero d’Avola in Taormina.

Photo1-2Of course, we'll continue offering Culinary Discovery Tours in the many destinations that have become guest favorites, as each season promises new trends and dishes to discover in the ever-evolving regional culinary scenes. This week we enjoyed fascinating tours in both Madeira and Morocco. On the island of Madeira, we explored the town of Funchal, always a treasure trove of passion fruit, exotic orchids and fresh fish. We tasted Madeira wines at Blandy’s, shopped the local market, and enjoyed an authentic Madeiran lunch.  

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In Tangier, Morocco, we strolled through the medina and the fish market, stopping to select some preserved doqq lemons and midway olives from one of our favorite vendors. We shared a luncheon of chicken tagine, pastilla, and couscous with a fantastic onion and beef confit, topped off with an exotic tea-pouring ceremony.

This is only the beginning of a great new season of exploring food and wine while making new friends both on the ship and amongst those who host us so generously in their wineries, restaurants and markets ashore. I hope you'll join us for the fun!

April 18, 2014

LEARN FAVORITE CANYON RANCH RECIPES IN THE BON APPÉTIT CULINARY CENTER

L1000002Riviera has set sail across the Atlantic, destined for a fabulous summer in Europe, and I’m on board to launch another exciting season of classes in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center. It is hard to believe I am already entering my fourth year as executive chef of the culinary center, and I can report that I am still loving every minute – especially when we introduce new classes and Culinary Discovery ToursTM. L1000029

The Canyon Ranch SpaClub® has long been a popular retreat on the ships of Oceania Cruises, and our guests rave about the Canyon Ranch cuisine featured in the onboard restaurants. Over the past year I have worked with a fellow graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Chef Scott Uehlein, to develop cooking classes inspired by Canyon Ranch, the undisputed leader in spa cuisine. As the corporate chef for Canyon Ranch, Chef Uehlein reinvents classics such as mac and cheese or Caesar salad in a healthier, yet satisfying and flavorful, way.

I spent a week at the Canyon Ranch resort in Tucson (I know, tough life I lead…), where Chef Uehlein and I selected a handful of recipes most requested by their guests over the past three decades. Together we designed our newest class for the Bon Appétit Culinary Centers on board Marina and Riviera: Most Requested from Canyon Ranch.

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The class was a huge hit with our guests on board this Riviera sailing. We were delighted to have Vera, the fitness and nutrition director for Riviera’s Canyon Ranch SpaClub, welcome our guests to the class and share a bit about the Canyon Ranch philosophy. Then we dove right into the recipes.

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L1000020We began with a couple salad dressings, one a simple balsamic dressing and the other using citrus and honey to liven it up. Then we learned one of my favorite breakfast recipes, the alpine muesli, before moving on to a salmon teriyaki with a spicy curried cauliflower.

Everyone in the class had a lot of fun, learned new healthy cooking techniques, and took home a handout with over a dozen Canyon Ranch recipes. Below I’ve shared one of the class favorites, and if you want to learn more secrets to healthy and delicious Canyon Ranch cuisine, come along on Marina’s Viking Passage sailing, departing May 22, and join us for a class in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center!

 

L1000017APPLE CRANBERRY SALMON SALAD

Makes 4 servings, each containing approximately: 325 calories, 38 gm. carbohydrate, 11 gm. fat, 54 mg. cholesterol, 20 gm. protein, 223 mg. sodium and 6 gm. fiber.

 

½ cup Mongolian BBQ Sauce (see recipe)

4 (4-ounce) salmon fillets

¼ cup fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons honey

¼ teaspoon sea salt

Pinch freshly ground black pepper

1 pound Gala apples

½ pound Granny Smith apples

½ cup chopped fresh cranberries

2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon

 

 

In a shallow glass baking dish, combine BBQ sauce and salmon and marinate for 30 minutes or up to 2 hours. In a large bowl, combine lemon juice, honey, salt, and pepper. Preheat grill or broiler. Grill or broil salmon fillets 3 to 5 minutes on each side or until fish is cooked through. Thinly slice apples using a mandoline or a knife. Add apples to lemon honey dressing and toss together to coat. Toss cranberries and tarragon with the apple mixture. Break apart salmon fillets into bite-sized pieces. Toss salmon with apple cranberry salad. Evenly divide between 4 plates and serve.

MONGOLIAN BBQ SAUCE

½ cup low-sodium wheat-free tamari sauce

2 tablespoons sugar

¼ cup rice vinegar

1 tablespoon sesame oil

½ cup sake

1/3 cup water

1/3 cup ketchup

Pinch dried coriander leaves

Pinch dry ginger

¼ teaspoon red chili flakes

¼ cup minced leeks

2 teaspoons minced garlic

2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger

2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons low-sodium wheat-free tamari sauce

In a large saucepan, combine first tamari, sugar, rice vinegar, sesame oil, sake, and first water and bring to a boil. Add ketchup, coriander leaves, dry ginger, and red chili flakes. Simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat. In a small bowl, combine leeks, garlic, fresh ginger, second water, and second tamari sauce. Add to cooked mixture and stir until combined. Store in refrigerator.

February 17, 2014

HO CHI MINH CITY AND THE VIETNAMESE COUNTRYSIDE

SaigonAlthough Ho Chi Minh City made the news last week for the grand opening of Vietnam’s first McDonald’s, guests on board Nautica got nothing but a quintessentially Vietnamese experience over the weekend while exploring this city of more than nine million and its surrounding countryside.

Known as Saigon prior to the end of the Vietnam War and still referred to as such by many, the city’s name was officially changed to Ho Chi Minh City in 1976, in honor of the revolutionary leader who served as prime minister and president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam from 1945 until his death in 1969. Oceania Cruises offers several shore excursions that explore this bustling metropolis, from its wartime relics and colonial architecture to its folkloric traditions and spiritual heritage, and excursions into the Vietnamese countryside are available as well.

Because Nautica frequently stays overnight in Ho Chi Minh City, guests have ample time to explore and take advantage of the opportunity to experience the contrast of city and country life. For me, there is nothing as energizing as immersing myself in the culture of a thriving urban center, but just as appealing is the serene countryside, where often I find a more authentic expression of cultural traditions that have been passed down through the centuries.

Guests on board Nautica enjoyed warm temperatures and bright sunshine while exploring the Vietnamese countryside on the Mekong River Cruise shore excursion. At the mouth of the seventh longest river in Asia, the Mekong Delta is one of the “rice baskets” of Vietnam, contributing about 50 percent of country’s rice production. Life in the Mekong Delta is centered on the river, and many of the locals spend their time paddling its canals and tributaries, whether farming, fishing, trading or escorting visitors on tours.

Mekong River Dusk

Vietnam Canal Cruise Paddler

The shore excursion began in My Tho. Considered the gateway to the Mekong Delta, the city was founded by Chinese refugees fleeing Taiwan in the 1680s. Here guests toured the Vinh Trang Pagoda, an ornate sanctuary near the city center set amidst beautiful gardens and decorated with carved and gilded wood. The laughing Buddha statue, an image believed to have originated in Chinese folklore, towers over the peaceful retreat where monks provide a home for orphaned, needy and disabled children.

Vinh Trang Buddha

Guests then boarded a motorboat and began to get a feel for daily life on the Mekong Delta as they passed fruit orchards, stilt houses, fish and shrimp farms and a vast variety of boats.

Far from the lines at the new McDonald’s in Ho Chi Minh City, guests stopped to explore the picturesque Thoi Son Island and enjoy a lunch of authentic Vietnamese food before continuing on to visit a family-run coconut candy factory. They then traded their motorboat for smaller, more traditional sampans and concluded the day with a scenic cruise through the narrow, tree-line canals of the lush delta.

Lunch at Thoi Son Island-Saigon

Thoi San Island-2

Oceania Cruises offers several opportunities to visit Vietnam in 2015. Enjoy a tranquil afternoon in the countryside, a thrilling day in Vietnam’s largest city, or both, because all the 2015 cruises feature overnight stays in Ho Chi Minh City!

 Photos by Peter Pretty

January 27, 2014

LEARNING TO MAKE TASTY LITTLE TREATS IN THE BON APPÉTIT CULINARY CENTER

Lemon cakes and ChampagneThe New Year is officially in full swing, and with it comes an exciting new array of classes in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center on board Marina and Riviera. In the Mediterranean Summer class, you can learn the secrets of the healthy Mediterranean diet, celebrated the world over for its focus on seasonal produce and local ingredients. Discover fresh, inventive recipes inspired by our travels in the Baltic in the Modern Nordic class. For those with a sweet tooth, you’ll definitely want to try the delicious desserts you can make in the Tasty Little Treats class.

In my case, the sweet tooth certainly applies, and as Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I recently learned to make some decadent desserts during a culinary center class led by Chef Instructor Annie B. Copps. Chef Copps is an absolute delight. She’s not only educational and informative but also just plain fun, as are all the instructors I’ve met in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center. You won’t find any Gordon Ramseys here. Classes are filled with both learning and laughter, and making mistakes can be part of the fun!
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Blogger-at-Large and Chef Copps                            Blogger-at-Large and Sous Chef Vineesh

A jovial attitude was encouraged right from the start with the bubbly libations served to kick off the class. Chef Copps suggested a Kir Royal as the perfect dessert drink. Simply pour a half ounce of crème de cassis, a black currant liqueur, into a flute and top with champagne or sparkling wine. In this case we used Pol Clément Brut Blanc de Blancs from France. Delightful!

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Then it was time to start up the stand mixers and get down to business. Our first recipe was Drunken Lemon Semolina Cakes. Chef Copps demonstrated the process and then assisted us as we prepared the recipe ourselves in our individual work stations. We whisked together pulverized almonds, flour, semolina, baking powder and salt and then added the wet ingredients, plus some lemon zest. We then poured the batter into buttered ramekins so we could make an individual cake for each person. (This is also a great way to manage portion control so that you don’t overdo it on your dessert!) Once the cakes were in the oven, we made a limoncello simple syrup in which we would soak the cakes when they were done baking.

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The next dessert was the one that I’d been waiting for – Chocolate Fondant Cake. With this recipe we learned the secret to those delectable “molten” cakes in which a rich, dark chocolate center flows out onto the plate when you cut into them. The trick is to bake a homemade truffle in the center of the batter.

Part of every great chef’s process is tasting the food to check for the proper balance of flavors. I wanted to make absolutely sure that these cakes turned out perfectly, so I considered it my duty to give the batter a try before it went in the oven, although I’m not sure I used the proper utensil for tasting.

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Soon Sous Chef Vineesh was pulling the first batch of lemon cakes from the oven, and after soaking them in our limoncello syrup, it was time to enjoy the fruits of our labors. While I’m a chocoholic at heart, I have to say these cakes may have converted me to a lemon fan. The almond cakes were so delicious, baked golden and just slightly crisp on the outside and melt-in-your-mouth moist on the inside, and the flavor of the limoncello was the perfect complement.

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Finally the chocolate cakes were done baking as well, and my love affair with lemon quickly became a distant memory as I tasted the rich chocolate decadence we had created. This was a recipe I would definitely be making again at home.

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Everyone in the class was all smiles as we enjoyed our delicious desserts. If you’re planning a cruise on board Marina or Riviera, I highly recommend that you try out a class in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center and learn to make your own Tasty Little Treats!

Eating Lemon Cakes

January 6, 2014

GUESTS SAVOR ARGENTINE CUISINE ON A CULINARY DISCOVERY TOUR IN BUENOS AIRES

Marina finished the year 2013 exploring the exotic coasts of Brazil, and during a recent call on Buenos Aires, guests enjoyed a fabulous Culinary Discovery Tour led by Bon Appétit Culinary Center Chef Noelle Barille.

Guests took a brief tour through the city on their way to the bustling, bohemian neighborhood of San Telmo, in which the cobblestone streets are lined with antique shops, galleries and tango halls. San Telmo is home to one of the busiest and most famous local markets, where guests were able to explore and sample some of the local treats. They tasted local liqueurs as well as dulce de leche pastry handmade by Margareite, an Italian immigrant. Many immigrants from Genoa settled in San Telmo in the past, and the Italian influence is still evident in the area.

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After the market visit, the group continued up the street to the Havanna Café, to try its robust coffee and famous alfajores. Said to be the best in Argentina, these delicious confections are filled with dulce de leche and coated in chocolate.

After this sweet nibble to whet their appetites, guests traveled to the Palermo neighborhood for the hands-on part of the tour. The Argentine Experience is not only a restaurant but also an interactive culinary experience that teaches people about the local cuisine. Everyone was greeted with the refreshing national drink of Argentina, mate infused with fruit juice. Then they moved on to the cooking class, which taught the entire process of making traditional Argentine empanadas, from the puffy dough to a variety of stuffings. Guests could fill their empanadas with caramelized onions, mozzarella, ratatouille, malbec-glazed beef and other savory treats. They even held a contest for the most creative empanada.

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A wonderful lunch of empanadas was complemented by roasted carrots and onions, whipped potatoes and three different Argentinian wines: a sauvignon blanc, a malbec, and a malbec blend. While historically known as one of the six grapes that can be used in a red Bordeaux wine, malbec has surged to prominence in Argentina and is now one of the most notable Argentinian wines.

After lunch everyone learned how to make mate and to assemble alfajores, so the secrets to several Argentinian specialties were now revealed. Before returning to the ship, the group stopped at an artisan ice cream shop called Volta. Considering the warm temperatures of the Argentine summer, this was the perfect place for the tour’s finale. Guests enjoyed one final incarnation of the ubiquitous dulce de leche, this time in ice cream. It was delightful conclusion to a day spent experiencing the vibrant Argentine culture through the local cuisine.

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December 20, 2013

AN EVENING OF AUTHENTIC ITALIAN CUISINE IN TOSCANA

DSC04822 - Version 2As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I share this post today to right an egregious wrong. In looking through past posts, I discovered that somehow I have never devoted a blog to Toscana. Considering it is not only my favorite restaurant on the ships but also one of my favorite restaurants period, I can’t believe I’ve neglected Toscana in this way.

Perhaps I’ve been reluctant to share my passion for Toscana because I’ve been teased about how much I love this restaurant. This is probably because each time I join friends for dinner here, my first question is, “How many courses is everyone having?” At my birthday dinner in Toscana, one of my friends answered, “Two.” I very nearly invited her to leave the party.

Toscana03Toscana serves authentic Italian recipes prepared with all the love and care of a Tuscan grandmother. And in some cases the recipes actually came from a Tuscan grandmother. Many dishes were created by Oceania Cruises’ talented team of international chefs, and others are generations-old family recipes shared by Italian crew members.

These wonderful recipes beg to be accompanied by a fabulous wine, so as with all evenings in Toscana, my most recent visit began with perusing the list of exclusive Italian wines. While the obvious choice would be a Chianti, my party selected a Famiglia Anselma Barolo from the Piedmont region, northwest of Tuscany. Typically bold and full bodied, Barolo is one of Italy’s greatest wines, and the Anselma family certainly knows Barolo because that is all that they make.

Next it was time to select that essential ingredient in any Italian meal, olive oil. We were presented a menu detailing the range of flavors and intensities of several extra virgin and infused olive oils. With olive oil this good, I prefer to savor the pure characteristics and aromas of the oil, but for those who like to add balsamic vinegar to their olive oil, an equally high-quality selection of balsamic vinegars is also featured. Our chosen olive oils were poured for us, and there was a diverse assortment of fresh homemade breads presented to dip in the oil.

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Then it was time to get down to business. I almost always begin with the Mozzarella di Bufala Caprese, as I simply can’t resist fresh mozzarella, vine-ripened tomatoes and fragrant basil. The Caprese salad is one of the best ways to enjoy these Italian staples – fresh, full of flavor and complemented by a touch of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

The more adventurous will want the try the Carpaccio di Polpo. This octopus carpaccio served with a warm potato salad and champagne vinaigrette is not only delicious but also one of the prettiest dishes on the menu.

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On this particular evening, I decided to try a new antipasto, the Sformatino di Carciofi in Salsa Tartufata, which showcases one of the most treasured of Tuscan delicacies, the truffle. This timbale is made with artichokes and Parmesan cheese, served with a black truffle sauce and drizzled with arugula-infused olive oil. The flavors were exquisite, both rich and perfectly balanced.

In Tuscany, pasta is not typically served as an entrée but rather as an earlier course in the meal. So in Toscana, you can enjoy a small pasta dish as a first course, or “il primo,” and still try one of the delectable beef, lamb or fish dishes as an entrée. The chefs seem to have anticipated my difficulty in deciding between all the wonderful pastas, as they kindly created the Trio Toscana that allows you to sample two delicious pastas and a risotto in one dish. The trio includes a perfectly prepared lobster risotto, a classic fettuccine carbonara, and a spinach and ricotta tortelloni laced with a delicate sage butter. If you prefer a tomato-based sauce, try the Linguine Cioppino with seafood in a light pinot grigio and cherry tomato sauce.

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Toscana10The Tuscans are fond of their grilled meats, so on this visit I selected the Filetto di Manzo alla Fiorentina as my entrée. The filet mignon is served with a Gorgonzola crust, sautéed garlic spinach, grilled polenta and a Brunello sauce. I typically order steak when I dine at Polo Grill, but now I will definitely consider a steak entrée at Toscana as well. Each bite melted in my mouth.

The veal dishes are also very popular, such as the bone-in veal chop in wild porcini mushroom sauce. And as if there aren’t enough options already, Toscana also features dishes from neighboring regions of Italy, such as the Osso Buco alla Milanese and Lasagna al Forno alla Bolognese. If you somehow manage to save room for dessert, Toscana has an excellent tiramisu.

 

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Needless to say, I am completely satiated when I finish a meal in Toscana, and yet each time I leave I’m already looking forward to my next visit. If you love Toscana as much as I do, feel free to share your favorite dishes in the comments here on the blog!

December 12, 2013

RIVIERA'S WINTER SAILINGS OFFER THE CHANCE TO EXPLORE VIBRANT MIAMI

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As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I’m always paying close attention to where the fleet is sailing, and I’m constantly amazed at the multitude of worldwide destinations to which these intimate mid-size ships can take you. In fact, sometimes I’m so intrigued by the exotic ports of call that I forget the treasures that are closer to home. Riviera’s arrival in Miami today as she concludes her first cruise of the winter season was a reminder that cosmopolitan Miami is blessed with wonderful diversity in architecture, culture and cuisine, and the city is constantly evolving as well.

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Few cities on earth are experiencing a renaissance as notable as that which is taking place in Miami. In just under a decade, the city has quickly become one of the world’s fastest growing metropolises, and the skyline now stretches across the horizon. If you haven’t sailed from Miami in the past few years, you might not recognize it at all. New hotels, fine restaurants, Cuban cafés, charming boutiques and stylish shops have opened their doors just steps from Riviera’s renovated Miami pier. And from Riviera’s decks, guests can see the stunning new Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), which just opened last week. The museum was designed by architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, winners of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, often referred to as “architecture’s Nobel.”

Art DecoThe beauty of a city like Miami is that it has found a way to celebrate the future while still preserving its past. Even as shining glass towers reach skyward in downtown, the extraordinary Art Deco District on South Beach lures visitors with its sleek architecture, period neon signs and cool preservationist vibe. Nearly 1,000 buildings are protected by law, and the entire district is on the National Register of Historic Places. Many of our guests admit they could spend the day doing nothing but walking along chic Ocean Drive.

Also on the National Register of Historic Places is the Freedom Tower on Biscayne Boulevard. Once the headquarters of The Miami News, the Freedom Tower was used by the US government to provide services for refugees fleeing Castro’s regime in the 1960s. Reminiscent of the Giralda in Seville, Spain, the Mediterranean Revival–style building now stands as a monument to Cuban American heritage. You can get a taste of the Cuban culture that thrives in Miami today with a stroll along Calle Ocho in Little Havana, a landmark street lined with coffee shops, salons, galleries, parks, markets and boutiques. Be sure to stop in to Café Versailles for a cup of Cuban coffee and grab a Cuban sandwich or some roast pork with mojo for lunch. Known as “The World’s Most Famous Cuban Restaurant,” Versailles is the unofficial town square for the Cuban community.

IMG_5948 vistacrop-2It’s becoming obvious that a single day spent exploring Miami is never enough. Fortunately, since several itineraries embark and disembark in Miami, there are many options for extending your visit with a pre- or post-cruise stay. Oceania Cruises offers a variety of one-, two- and three-night hotel packages at two of the city’s most distinguished hotels. After a recent redesign and $31 million in extensive renovations, the Marriott Biscayne Bay boasts gorgeous waterfront views and a location just across from the hip Miami Art and Design Districts. At the JW Marriott Marquis, guests can choose from a number of delightful pursuits, ranging from dining at James Beard award winner Chef Daniel Boulud’s DB Bistro Moderne to attending the world-renowned Jim McLean Golf School with instruction, golf simulators, putting greens and a Pro Shop.

You can rub shoulders with Miami society’s glitterati at the Canyon Ranch Hotel & Spa on Miami Beach, a resort with boundless facilities that inspire healthy living and promote wellness. Oceania Cruises offers a two-night package with full access to Canyon Ranch's state-of-the-art, 70,000-square-foot Wellness Spa, the largest in Florida. Lose yourself in the Aquavana® thermal suite, a collection of European-style healing aquatic environments including the Finnish sauna and rooftop HydroSpa. You also receive a $150 spa credit, so indulge in a Thai massage and restorative touch therapy or enjoy a facial enhancement that leaves your skin looking more vibrant and youthful.

Take advantage of the opportunity to explore vibrant Miami when you reserve a voyage with Oceania Cruises in 2014. Our special Canyon Ranch Hotel & Spa package is offered as a pre-cruise option on the following sailings:

The package is also offered as a post-cruise option on the following voyages:

November 25, 2013

MEMORIES OF BARCELONA

Marina and Riviera have said goodbye to Europe for 2013 and set sail for warmer waters for the winter. Both ships ended their final European cruise of the season in Barcelona, an amazing city that I’ve so enjoyed exploring as Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises.

One of the things that makes Barcelona distinctive is its blend of traditional architecture interspersed with the modernist buildings of Gaudí. The renowned architect’s inimitable style is found throughout the city, as he designed everything from private homes to public parks and churches. One of Barcelona’s most famous façades, Casa Batlló is the most unique and striking building I’ve ever seen. Now a museum and event space, Casa Batlló was built from 1904 to 1906 as a private home for textile industrialist Josep Batlló.

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Next door is another modernist building, Casa Amatller. While it was designed by Gaudí contemporary Josep Puig i Cadafalch, the style is drastically different. The contrasting styles of these buildings, along with two more nearby homes by two other modernist architects, have earned this block the moniker of Illa de la Discòrdia, or Block of Discord.

Casa Batllo and Casa Amatller

Wine and TapasAfter visiting Casa Batlló, I stopped for some tapas and wine on the patio of a restaurant just down the street on Passeig de Gràcia, one of the most fashionable and expensive streets in Barcelona. Every time I visit Spain I’m truly amazed at what the Spanish can do with just bread, tomato and a touch of garlic. Pan con tomate (literally “bread with tomato”) is one of my favorite tapas. Add a little manchego cheese and I am in heaven! I also enjoyed a glass of El Perro Verde (The Green Dog), a lovely and very reasonably priced Spanish verdejo.

It was a good thing I fortified myself with tapas, because my next stop, Park Güell, is perched on the top of a very steep hill overlooking the city. Esuebi Güell, a well-known Catalan industrialist, commissioned Gaudí to create a residential garden village. Although the residential project failed, the city of Barcelona acquired the property and opened it to the public as a park.

The entrance, unmistakably designed by Gaudí, is composed of four flights of ornately decorated stairs, including a beautifully tiled dragon-like lizard, one of the best-known images of the park.

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Among the completed buildings were two pavilions for visitors and park keepers, also distinctly Gaudí. The number of beautiful, detailed mosaics, sculptures and structures is astounding. The park is essentially a spectacular outdoor museum with free entrance!

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I’ve shared a few blogs about Barcelona, but there is so much to see and do in this city that I’ve only scratched the surface. I look forward to sharing more when Oceania Cruises’ ships return to Europe next season, and I hope I’ve inspired you to plan your European cruise for 2014! Oceania Cruises makes frequent stops in Barcelona in the summer season, so hopefully you will have a chance to visit on one of these cruises or the many others offered:

November 18, 2013

A DAY IN FLORENCE

Last week Nautica, Marina and Riviera all called on the port of Livorno, the gateway to Tuscany. From this port, you can explore the beautiful Tuscan countryside and so many charming towns, from Pisa to Cinque Terre to San Gimignano. Of course, one of the most popular places to visit is the grand city of Florence.

View of Florence

I recently took the Florence On Your Own shore excursion, which is perfect if you want the freedom to wander the streets of this amazing city at your own pace without worrying about getting back to the ship on time. A comfortable, air-conditioned bus picked me up at the ship for the two-hour trip to Florence, during which a guide shared info and maps that helped me navigate the city. Once we arrived, I had six lovely hours to enjoy Florence before the bus picked me up and returned me to the ship.

The bus dropped me off at the Piazza di Santa Croce, just off the Arno River and near the Basilica di Santa Croce, where I began my day. Construction began on the basilica, the principal Franciscan church in Florence, in 1294. With 16 chapels, it is the largest Franciscan church in the world and the burial place of some of history’s most famous Italians, including Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli and Rossini.

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At the steps of the Basilica di Santa Croce stands a statue dedicated to the great Italian poet, Dante. Donated in 1865 to celebrate the sixth century since Dante’s birth, the statue was moved to the steps of the basilica in 1968. Born in Florence, Dante was eventually condemned to exile for political reasons, and it wasn’t until 2008 that Dante’s sentence was rescinded. Thus, while the city of Florence built a tomb for Dante in the Basilica di Santa Croce in the 19th century, his remains are still in a tomb in Ravenna, the city where he died. At each corner of the base of the Dante statue sits a rather stern-looking heraldic lion with one paw on the city’s coat of arms, said to represent the power of the people of the Republic of Florence.

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With only one basilica down, I was already starving. I stopped at a restaurant on the piazza and enjoyed one of the best Caprese salads I’ve ever had, accompanied by some delicious prosciutto, a rich lasagna and a glass of red wine. Suffice it to say, I was sated and ready to continue exploring.

Lunch Caprese Salad

My next stop was Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s most famous bridge. Originally built during Roman times, it is the oldest bridge in Florence. The current structure was built in 1345, and the workshops along the bridge were mainly used by butchers and tanners. Today the shops offer a wide array of jewelry and souvenirs to the many tourists that visit.

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Plaza VecchioAfter Ponte Vecchio I moved on to the nearby Palazzo Vecchio, the town hall. At the end of the 13th century, Florentines decided to build a palace that provided greater security to the magistrates. The massive Romanesque fortress is one of the most impressive in Tuscany and overlooks the Piazza della Signoria.

The Fountain of Neptune stands on the piazza, as well as a replica of Michelangelo’s David, marking the place where the original statue once stood. The original is now housed in the Accademia Gallery, about a 15-minute walk north of the Palazzo Vecchio, and I consider it to be one of Florence’s must-see sights. While you’ve probably seen any number of the images and replicas of the statue that seem to pervade Western culture, the original is truly astounding in its scale, detail and beauty.

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Plaza Vecchio David

Uffizi Gallery CourtyardNear the Palazzo Vecchio and also well worth a visit is the amazing Uffizi Gallery, one of the oldest and most famous museums in the world. The gallery houses some of Italy’s greatest works of art, including works by da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael. One of my favorite works in this museum is Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, although it’s almost ludicrous to name any favorite amidst the incredible collection of masterworks. There is usually a long line to get into the Uffizi, so I highly recommend advance reservations, which can be made online for a fee. Oceania Cruises also offers excursions to both the Uffizi and the Accademia Gallery, so you can avoid the lines at both.

There are so many wonderful things to see in Florence, and I haven’t even mentioned the Duomo yet, one of the most famous and impressive cathedrals in Europe! I’ll save that for a future blog, and if you want to see this wonderful city for yourself, here are just a few of the ample opportunities to visit with Oceania Cruises in 2014:

November 4, 2013

MORE OF THE BIG APPLE

This week Regatta made her final stop in New York for 2013 before sailing south to warmer waters for the winter season, so I am taking this opportunity to share the remainder of my photos from my most recent trip to this fabulous city as Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises.

On this trip I was very much looking forward to visiting to the 9/11 Memorial. Tickets to visit the memorial are free, but you do need to get them in advance if you are not on a prearranged tour. I highly recommend the Oceania Cruises shore excursion Downtown Manhattan and the 9/11 Memorial, which includes a harbor cruise past the Statue of Liberty and a walking tour of Lower Manhattan followed by a visit to the memorial.

Honoring the lives of those who were lost in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and February 26, 1993, the memorial occupies 8 of the 16 acres of the former World Trade Center complex. Names of all the lives lost are inscribed in bronze plaques that surround the two waterfalls and reflecting pools set in the footprints of the twin towers. Like a beacon of hope, the new One World Trade Center being built to replace the twin towers rises over the memorial plaza. 

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There is no way to describe the feeling of arriving on this solemn scene. The roaring water of the fountains blocks out the ambient noises, so I was left with what felt like a very solitary experience of the monument despite being surrounded by visitors. I knew it would be a powerful tribute, but there is no way to really know how moving the experience will be until you are there. It is a poignant testament to the impact of the tragedy and the incredible strength and resilience of the American people, particularly New Yorkers, in the wake of the devastation.  

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After visiting the memorial, I spent some time walking the streets of Manhattan and just taking in all the sights, sounds and smells of this wonderful city. The skyscrapers soaring over historic churches nestled in their shadows. The car engines and taxi horns blending somehow harmoniously with the din of voices, within which I could discern any number of accents and languages as I strolled through the multitude of faces. Ultimately, the tempting aromas from the street vendors and local restaurants drew me to my final quintessential New York experience of the day – pizza!

When an Italian immigrant reinvented a Neapolitan staple food in 1897, New York–style pizza was born. In 1905 Lombardi’s was licensed by the city of New York, becoming America’s first pizzeria. There are now pizzerias on just about every street corner in New York (Ray’s and Original Ray’s being the most ubiquitous), but what makes Lombardi’s special, along with a handful of other pizzerias in the city, is the brick oven. In an authentic New York pizzeria, the ingredients are fresh and the pizza is baked to order in a brick oven.

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I “accidentally” ordered a large pizza and for a few minutes was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to finish, even with the help of my friend who had happily agreed to join me. But walking the streets of New York and the smell of Lombardi’s pizza have a way of making a girl hungry, and I am proud to say, there was not much left when we were finished.

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One of the greatest things about New York is that, no matter how many times you visit, there is always more to see and do. If you’ve never been, you simply must add this city to your bucket list. And there are some distinct advantages to seeing the city on an Oceania Cruises voyage. New York is a city in which it’s easy to drop several hundred dollars on food and lodging in just a day or two, but with your Oceania Cruises home away from home awaiting you in port, you can sample the local fare, see the sights and then return to the luxurious accommodations and fine cuisine on board and take full advantage of Oceania Cruises’ incredible value. Plus, on these 2014 voyages, you can also visit a number of other wonderful cities along the American and Canadian coasts – and even the Caribbean!

 

October 29, 2013

NEW YORK STATE OF MIND

Regatta arrived in New York City today, and guests will enjoy an overnight stay in the city that never sleeps. Overnight stays are one of the hallmarks of Oceania Cruises itineraries, and if any city merits two full days of exploration, New York City certainly does.

As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I’ve had the privilege of traveling to cities all over the world, and each one holds a special place in my heart. But when I visit New York, it’s a different experience than disembarking in a city on distant shores. I know the language; I know the culture; I know the traffic laws. But no matter how familiar it may feel, each visit fills me with new excitement at the prospect of further exploring this wonderful city.

As I’ve previously visited New York’s most famous sights, on my most recent visit I decided to dig deeper into the quintessential New York experience. I began by heading uptown to 112th Street and Amsterdam to get a glimpse at the spectacular Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. One of the largest Christian churches in the world, construction began on the cathedral in 1892. The original design was Byzantine-Romanesque, traces of which can be seen in the dome, but was changed to a Gothic style in the early 1900s. A fire in 2001 badly damaged the inside and it was closed to the public until 2008. Although yet unfinished, the cathedral is just as breathtaking on the inside as it is on the outside.

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As a foodie, I was especially looking forward to my next stop. From 112th street, I made my way down to 80th Street and Broadway to Zabar’s grocery store. In 1934, Louis and Lillian Zabar opened a small counter in the Daitch Market with the idea of selling the highest quality smoked fish at a fair price (a philosophy that Oceania Cruises can appreciate, as the company was founded on offering a luxurious cruising experience at an exceptional value). Almost 80 years later this market is a celebration of everything good about food: barrels of olives, walls of cheeses (some hanging from the ceiling), fresh bread, and I lost count after 15 different kinds of butter from all over the world.

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Zebars Cheese Zebars Bread

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I might still be standing in the chocolate section, but after being surrounded by so much amazing food, it was time to eat. So I headed south to Carnegie Deli, across the street from Carnegie Hall. There is usually a line out front, but if your party is small, it moves fast. And if you are as hungry as I was, fear not, because right away you can enjoy a generous serving of an assortment of real New York pickles.

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Family owned and operated since 1937, the restaurant has several rooms, the walls of which are covered with hundreds of photos of famous people who have eaten here. There is nothing romantic about it, but if what you want is great New York deli food, you can’t go wrong here. The menu is enormous but I came for the basics: matzo ball soup and a pastrami sandwich on rye. The portions are generous to say the least, so I recommend sharing! The soup was heavenly and the pastrami was perfect. They just don’t make pastrami like that where I come from!

Carnegie Soup Carnegie Sandwich

These highlights of my day are just the beginning of my New York experience, and I look forward to sharing more with you soon. If you are hoping to explore this amazing city for the first time or return for more, there are several opportunities to sail there with Oceania Cruises in 2014:

October 14, 2013

ENCHANTED BY CINQUE TERRE

Today Marina calls on La Spezia, Italy, and guests have the chance to visit delightful Cinque Terre. As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I had the opportunity to visit the villages of Cinque Terre last year, and they are the most enchanting I’ve seen.

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Cinque Terre is composed of five fishing villages along the stunning Ligurian coast of Italy. Soaring cliffs rise straight out of the sea, and this rugged landscape kept these towns inaccessible by land and completely isolated for centuries. As a result, the traditional Ligurian culture has been remarkably well preserved, and Cinque Terre is both a national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Even today it is very difficult to reach the villages by car, and no traffic is allowed in the historical centers. The best way to reach the villages is by boat or train, both of which are available from La Spezia. There are also hiking trails that lead between each of the villages, although some require steep ascents or descents, often via stairs. The easiest, shortest and most famous path is the Via dell’Amore, or “Lovers’ Lane,” that runs between Manarola and Riomaggiore and offers spectacular views. But then, in Cinque Terre almost any vantage point offers spectacular views.

My visit began in the village of Manarola. At first I was simply mesmerized by the uniquely scenic beauty of the town, embodying all the romance of the Italian Riviera. But I was even more astounded to imagine what perseverance had been required to create these isolated villages and ensure their survival. In addition to fishing, the locals have made their living through the centuries by constructing thousands of miles of terraces along the cliffs on which grapes and olives are grown. Because of the challenging topography, most of the cultivation of the vineyards is done manually. Today Cinque Terre offers a picturesque and peaceful retreat only because of centuries of hard work and determination.

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Manarola 2 Manarola Terraces

My next stop was Vernazza. Both Vernazza and Monterosso were devastated during a freakishly severe rainstorm that caused destructive floods and mudslides in October 2011. But both towns rallied impressively afterward and made a remarkable recovery. Now the cafés, restaurants and shops are all bustling again as tourists and locals alike enjoy Vernazza’s charming waterfront, one of the most photographed spots along a coastline that inspires infinite photographs.

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My final stop for the day was Monterosso al Mare, where the Torre Aurora stands on a promontory overlooking the sea. The medieval tower was one of several constructed in the 16th century to protect the town from pirates. A lovely walk along the coast took me from the train station past the Torre Aurora to the Old Town.

Monterossa Monterosso with Torre Aurora

Monterosso has some lovely churches, such as the 14th century Church of Saint John the Baptist with its striking striped façade and rose window.

Church of St

Next door is the Church of the Brotherhood of Death and Prayer. This charitable brotherhood for the poor, farmers, fishermen and sailors was committed to providing burials for those who could not afford it. As I was admiring the Baroque details of the church, I suddenly found myself taking a much closer look. The interior was adorned with skeletons, a reminder of the inevitability of death. It is said that pirates donated their treasure to the church in an attempt to save their souls.

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Church of the Brotherhood of Death and Prayer Skeleton decor Church of the Brotherhood of Death and Prayer Skeleton decor 2

After a day of touring, I stopped into one of the lovely restaurants that lined the narrow streets. I felt obligated to reward the local fishermen and vintners for their efforts, so my choice for lunch was an easy one: seafood pasta and a local wine. Both were absolutely delicious, and the crisp white wine beautifully complemented the flavors of the pasta. Liguria is also known for its pesto, so as an appetizer, I tried some trofie al pesto. The hand-rolled pasta was the perfect marriage for the best pesto I’ve ever tasted.

Cafe Cafe Pasta

Cafe wine

I was content to conclude my visit without seeing the other two villages, Riomaggiore and Corniglia, because that gave me an excuse to return! Oceania Cruises offers excursions to Cinque Terre not only from La Spezia but from Livorno as well. I hope you have the chance to visit these captivating villages on an upcoming Oceania Cruises voyage. 

 

 

October 11, 2013

OCEANIA CRUISES UNVEILS NEW “TASTE OF THE WORLD” MENU

If you follow Oceania Cruises’ blog, then you know that as Blogger-at-Large, I love travel and I love food. Oceania Cruises has always appreciated that the two go hand in hand, because one of the greatest parts of travel is experiencing the variety of world cuisines. This is one reason that we feature many later evening departures and overnight stays in port, so that guests have plenty of time to sample the local fare and enjoy an authentic meal ashore. At the same time, the onboard cuisine is the finest at sea, and the culinary program is designed to reflect the varied flavors of the international destinations we visit. Our chefs continually strive to enhance this onboard culinary experience, and we are very excited to unveil their latest innovation.

Franck GarangerAfter many months of research, experimentation and plenty of tastings by both chefs and executives, Oceania Cruises is pleased to introduce the Taste of the World dishes. Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger and his culinary team thoroughly researched and tested more than 80 recipes to create this new collection that captures the essence of 13 countries with six to seven recipes presented on each plate. These new dishes celebrate the authentic flavors of some of the most intriguing areas to which Oceania Cruises sails.

The new Taste of the World dishes will be featured during lunch in the Grand Dining Room and the Terrace Café on each Oceania Cruises ship beginning in January 2014 as part of an entirely new menu (about which I’ll share further tantalizing details in a future blog!). Guests who have lunch in the Grand Dining Room can order a Taste of the World selection as an entrée or enjoy it as an appetizer, perfectly sized to share with the entire table.

Cuisine onboard Oceania Cruises is noted for its variety, and the Taste of the World dishes are no exception. Here are few of my favorites (and I freely admit that my love for some of these cruising regions has a lot to do with which Taste of the World choices I will enjoy the most).

What is more enticing than golden and emerald buddhas, red-roofed pagodas, terraced rice fields, buried terra cotta warriors or great walls that stretch for thousands of miles? For me, that would be Asian food, and the Taste of the World from Asia showcases some of the best of countries such as Japan, Thailand and Vietnam. Dig into crispy Prawns Tempura, a delectable Thai Beef Salad, creamy Avocado Rolls, tasty Wakame Salad, satisfying Vietnamese Chicken and Shrimp Fried Rolls, and a perfectly cooked Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce.

Taste of the World from Asia

Few countries tantalize the palate like Italy. Until you travel among the hills of Tuscany, glide across the canals of Venice, walk the cobbled streets of ancient Rome or sip a glass of limoncello among the lemon trees of the Amalfi Coast, you may not realize the incredible breadth and depth of Italian cuisine. Somehow the Taste of the World from Italy embodies all of the nation’s great flavors in just one plate featuring refreshing Melon and Prosciutto, delicious Cipolline in Agrodolce with Goat Cheese, tangy Grilled Marinated Vegetables, decadent Tomato Mozzarella Stracciatella, smooth Ricotta and Spinach Panzerotti, and lovely Fagottini di Bresaola e Ricotta.

Taste of the World from Italy

England has given us amazing cathedrals, crown jewels, stunning palaces, historic museums and iconic clock towers, but this popular destination’s cuisine is often overlooked. It’s a shame, because the best of English dishes presented on a single plate is a reminder of why this empire once stretched around the world. The Taste of the World from England presents a wonderful Salmon Cake with Tartar Sauce, savory Roast Beef with Coleslaw, fantastic Soft Eggs with Potato Salad, traditional Fish and Chips, surprisingly good Honey and Mustard Pickled Vegetables, classic Yorkshire Pudding and beloved Minced Beef and Onion Pie.

Taste of the World from England

Wander among the lavender fields of Provence, explore the small towns in the countryside, discover the great museums of Marseille and you have only scratched the surface of what this amazing region has to offer. With the Taste of the World from Provence, you will better understand the many cultural and artistic influences that have shaped Provence through the centuries. Sample Salted Cod Aioli, vibrant Artichokes Barigoule, a smooth Chicken Liver Pâté with Aubergine in Vinegar, spicy Nice Black Olive Tapenade, crunchy Fried Barbajuan with Spinach and Ricotta Stuffing, traditional Salad Niçoise with Tuna and a spirited Green Olive Fougasse.

Taste of the World from Provence

We get so caught up in the swaying palm trees, turquoise waters, white sand beaches and brightly colored undersea worlds of the Caribbean that it’s easy to forget its cuisine is among the most interesting and sought after in the world. With almost every major European power laying claim to an island at one point or another, the dishes served in the Caribbean hark back to an intriguing ancestry. Mix in the native plants and indigenous spices and things really start to get interesting. The Taste of the World from the Caribbean features spicy Jerk Chicken, Dirty Rice, refreshing Avocado and Pineapple Salad with a Passion Fruit Vinaigrette, moist Crab Cake with fiery Poblano Aioli, tart Lemon Marinated Fruit Salad, Dhal Puri Flat Bread and delicate Acras de Morue and Sweet Potatoes.

Taste of the World from Caribbean Island

Many other countries are also delectably profiled in the Taste of the World. Some of my favorites are the positively divine Eggplant Baba Ghanoush that is part of the Taste of the World from Turkey, the Lamb Bourekaki and Spanakopita included in the Taste of the World from Greece and the Beef Kefta with Yogurt Sauce served with the Taste of the World Morocco. I’m a big fan of Indian food, so the Taste of the World from India’s Chicken Tikka Salad, Samosa and Prawns Curry sound delicious. The Philippines are represented by Pork Spring Rolls and a Mango Salad, and Mexico tempts the palate with Fish Ceviche and Empanadas with Salsa Cruda. The rich fishing history of Scandinavian countries is showcased in Gravlax and Marinated Herring with some Swedish Meatballs and Polar Bread to keep things interesting. Last but certainly not least, the Taste of the World from Spain represents the many flavors of the country, ranging from a Valencia Spinach and Orange Salad to Beef Albondigas and Pulpo Alla Gallega.

Taste of the World has been a huge hit with guests who got a sneak peek during the preliminary onboard tastings, and those cruising with us in 2014 can look forward to enjoying this wonderful array of new dishes. The creativity and innovation of our chefs continues to uphold Oceania Cruises’ long-held reputation for serving the finest cuisine at sea.

October 9, 2013

CHEF KELLY LEADS CULINARY DISCOVERY TOUR IN SAN SEBASTIAN

Fall is in the air in the markets of Spain, and I led a wonderful Culinary Discovery Tour in San Sebastian last week, where guests enjoyed a hands-on workshop at the exclusive restaurant Ni Neu.

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We were traveling onboard Riviera from Southampton to Barcelona, and along the way we enjoyed fresh oysters in Brittany, Calvados in Le Havre and pintxos in San Sebastian. For those who may not be familiar with pinxtos, they are similar to tapas and are especially popular in the Basque region of Spain. Many say that San Sebastian has the best pinxtos in Basque country.

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In Bilbao we boarded a bus for San Sebastian, a city known for Michelin-starred restaurants and fabulous food. Our first stop was a market in the old town with a wide selection of fresh fish. The city’s finest chefs shop here for anchovies, sole, squid, swordfish, hake, snapper and various shellfish. The bacalau vendor offered an array of salted cod varieties – always spectacular in Spain. 

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After purchasing jamón, local cheese and wine, we walked across the bridge for our pintxos workshop and lunch at Ni Neu. The chef and his interpreter greeted us warmly, and everything was set up for our workshop.

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The circulator was at the perfect 145°F temperature for the eggs, which we would eat on a mash of potatoes and garlic – with Spanish olive oil and salt of course. I shared with the class the method known as “sous vide, a hot trend in the culinary world today. Oceania Cruises chefs have used this method to prepare one of the courses on the tasting menu in La Reserve. They’re expanding the technique to dishes in other venues as well and are excited to continue showcasing one of the latest culinary trends onboard the ships.

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We worked in tables of five and made four different pintxos, all very tasty. Many of our guests were inspired to host a pintxos party at home. We also sipped Spanish wines and learned about the emerging wine regions in central Spain. 

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After a 60 minute workshop, we enjoyed two signature dishes from Ni Neu. The first was roasted lamb IMG_3768on a bed of Parmentier cheese purée and a wild mushroom dust. “Parmentier” refers to dishes made with potatoes and honors the 18th-century Frenchman who devoted his life to promoting the attributes of the potato. For dessert we had the restaurant’s famous French toast soaked in egg yolk and fresh cream, caramelized and served with homemade ice cream.

Waddling back to the bus for the scenic ride home, we all had a full appreciation of why San Sebastian is heralded as the culinary capital of northern Spain.

October 2, 2013

CHEF KELLY TEACHES FRESH PASTA MAKING IN THE BON APPETIT CULINARY CENTER

Autumn is a wonderful season to visit Italy, and Nautica, Marina and Riviera all have several calls there in the coming weeks. The air is cool and crisp, and even the most popular tourist sights are less crowded than they are at the height of summer. As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I especially like visiting Italy during this season because I love nothing more than a big plate of fresh pasta primavera with fall vegetables.

Pasta Class2In the Bon Appétit Culinary Center onboard Marina or Riviera, you can learn to make fresh pasta yourself and enjoy it any time of year. I recently participated in the Passion for Pasta class in the culinary center, and Chef Kelly taught us all the secrets to making delicious fresh pasta at home.

As Chef Kelly began the demonstration, we soon learned that making fresh pasta is quite simple once you get the hang of it. You need only three basic ingredients: 250 grams of flour, 150 grams of eggs and ¼ teaspoon of olive oil. The key is to be exact in measuring the flour and eggs to get the right balance of moisture in your dough.

Always weigh the flour to get an accurate measurement because packing, storage and settling will cause the volume of flour to vary. And keep in mind that a jumbo egg weighs almost 50 percent more than a medium egg, so the size of the egg is also important. Typically three medium eggs will give you 150 grams. If you have large eggs, you can withhold some of the egg white if necessary so you don’t get too much moisture in your dough.

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Chef Kelly also shared another important tip about using eggs: An egg has about 70,000 pores, so you should always keep eggs in their container in the refrigerator rather than transferring them to a built-in egg holder. Otherwise, the eggs will absorb the odors in your fridge much like a box of baking soda will do.

IMG_7828 - Version 2Once Chef Kelly had taught us the basic ingredients, it was time to learn the technique. In a mixing bowl, she made a well with the flour and added the eggs and olive oil. Using a fork, she broke the egg yolks and stirred together the eggs and olive oil. She mixed the dough in the bowl just until it became sticky and then turned it out on the work surface to bring it together.

“Every pasta dough has a personality,” Chef Kelly said. “You’ll quickly find out whether your dough is a real ‘softie’ that will be fun to work with or whether it’s going to make things a little more difficult for you.”

Here was where we learned to become true chefs. As you knead the dough, it will start out grainy, but the more you handle it, the softer it will get. Chef Kelly said she didn’t recommend using a machine with a dough hook to mix dough because you need to feel its personality and “listen” to the dough as it comes together.

“You should need the dough by hand for about three to five minutes, until it feels soft like a baby’s butt,” she said. “It will talk to you and tell you when it’s ready. Listen for the dough to say, ‘Stop touching me. I’m done.’” 

As we all put the technique into practice in our own workstations, we quickly understood the truth behind Chef Kelly’s words. There is no better way to learn a culinary technique than by using your own two hands, especially when you’re in a state-of-the-art culinary studio with a master chef to assist you along the way! 

Once we were finished, we had a dough that was soft, pliable and slightly tacky but did not stick to our hands. Pasta dough has to rest before being cooked, so the gluten will create a strong bond in the dough to keep it from falling apart, and yet not be tough. So we tossed out our “practice dough” and proceeded to prepare the pasta with some dough that had already rested in the refrigerator overnight. Chef Kelly said that you can also rest your dough at room temperature for few hours if you’re going to prepare it the same day.

Beginning with the pasta machine as its widest setting, Chef Kelly fed the rested dough through the machine ten times, folding it and forming it into a rectangle as she went. She continued feeding the dough through at narrower and narrower settings, adding only enough flour to prevent the dough from sticking to the machine. When the dough was too long to fit around a fork, she cut it in half and then continued passing it through the machine until the dough was thin enough that she could see her hand through it.

Once everyone had prepared a thin dough, we let it rest briefly again and then ran it through the fettuccine attachment on the pasta machine to cut it. Our fresh pasta was now ready to cook! 

Pasta Class1You might have noticed that we did not add salt to the dough. This is because salt can turn pasta dough brown. Instead, we cooked the dough in water that had been salted to the level of seawater, about 1/3 cup of sea salt per gallon of water. When the water was boiling, we added the pasta and cooked it until it floated in the water, about one to three minutes.

While dried pasta is best complemented by a robust sauce, fresh pasta should be the “star of the show,” so Chef Kelly suggested pairing it with lighter, buttery sauces or fresh veggies. In this class, Chef Kelly helped us prepare a lovely dish by gently searing some sage in a little olive oil and tossing in some walnuts with the fresh pasta. Of course, no matter how much you enjoy cooking, its greatest reward is dining on the fruits of your labors! 

Below is a wonderful fresh pasta dish from Chef Kelly. This recipe calls for carrots, zucchini and snow peas, but feel free to experiment with any of your favorite fall vegetables. Bon appétit!

 

PASTA PRIMAVERA                                                           

{ SERVES 1 TO 2 }

1 carrot, julienned

½ zucchini, julienned

10 snow peas

¼ cup clam juice

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

¼ cup minced shallot

¼ cup dry white wine

6 shrimp, shelled and deveined

¼ cup heavy cream

½ teaspoon lemon zest

Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)

4 ounces fresh pasta

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

2 basil leaves

 

Heat a medium pot of generously salted water over high heat, to bring to a boil.

In a medium sauté pan over medium heat, cook the carrot, zucchini, and snow peas in the clam juice. When al dente, remove the vegetables from the pan and set aside.

In the same pan, melt the butter. Add the shallot and sauté for about 2 minutes, or until it is soft and translucent. Add the wine and cook an additional 2 to 3 minutes, until the wine almost evaporates and the mixture is nearly dry, or “sec.”  

Add the shrimp. Cook the shrimp on one side for about 3 minutes, until pink. Turn over the shrimp. Add the cream, lemon zest, and red pepper flakes. Allow the mixture to come to a gentle boil. When the liquid begins to reduce, add the cooked vegetables.

Add the pasta to the boiling, salted water and cook for 1 to 3 minutes, until it floats. Drain the pasta and add it to the shrimp and vegetable mixture. Toss in the cheese. 

Stack the basil leaves, roll them into a cigar, and slice into a chiffonade. Serve the pasta with a garnish of basil chiffonade.

September 25, 2013

MORE ADVENTURES WITH JACQUES PÉPIN ONBOARD RIVIERA

AnniversaryThe Jacques Pépin Signature Sailing onboard Riviera continues, and it has been a festive and eventful cruise. Jacques and his wife, Gloria, were surprised with a special celebration in Privée for their 47th wedding anniversary, complete with confetti and a beautiful cake created for the occasion by Oceania Cruises’ talented chefs.

When Riviera called on Ibiza, Pépin enjoyed a trip to the Sa Cova winery in the green hills of San Mateo. Grapes have been grown in this region since the time of the Phoenicians, including varietals such as monastrell, malvasia, cabernet sauvignon and tempranillo. Covering more than 22 acres, Sa Cova produces wines with grapes grown on the estate, using modern production techniques and high ecological standards combined with traditional methods and aging processes.

Pépin and his guests had a wonderful time with the winery’s friendly staff, who explained the production process and also offered a tasting of several different wines paired with local bread, aioli, sausage, cheese and ham. Any food and wine lovers on an Oceania Cruises voyage to Ibiza will not want to miss this shore excursion, Wine Tasting at Sa Cova!

Ibiza
While everyone on the cruise has greatly enjoyed exploring ashore, there have been several special events onboard as well. Chef Kelly of the Bon Appétit Culinary Center hosted “An Informal Chat with Chef Pépin” in which he shared several personal stories with guests, from his childhood as the son of restaurateurs to his position as the personal chef to three French heads of state, including Charles de Gaulle. Pépin also shared several fond and funny memories of his work with Julia Child, with whom he collaborated on the award-winning television series Jacques and Julia Cooking at Home.

There have also been book signings and other opportunities for guests to interact with the renowned chef who is the inspiration behind Oceania Cruises’ exquisite cuisine. While the culinary experience on any Oceania Cruises voyage is exceptional, having legendary Chef Pépin onboard has truly made this cruise extraordinary.

September 16, 2013

10TH-ANNIVERSARY SAILING CONCLUDES A YEAR OF CELEBRATION

Nautica arrived in Athens today, marking the end of Oceania Cruises’ final 10th-anniversary sailing of the year. Hosted by Founding Chairman Joe Watters and his wife, Virginia, the cruise concluded with all the fanfare merited by this historic milestone.

Oceania Club Reception
On the evening of September 13, the Captain’s cocktail reception in Nautica Lounge was hosted by Captain Igor Bencina, Founding Chairman Watters, General Manager Carlo Gunetti, Oceania Club Ambassador Sharon Miceli and Cruise Director Nolan Dean (pictured above). Mr. Watters and the senior officers warmly welcomed each guest to the special event.

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At the celebratory reception, Mr. Watters expressed his gratitude for the patronage of all of Oceania Cruises’ guests over the past decade and for their loyalty in the years to come. He also recognized the individual officers and crew who have been with Oceania Cruises for its entire 10-year history, noting that these dedicated members of the Oceania Cruises family are certainly one of the reasons that guests continue to sail with us time and time again. 

10-Year Team Members
That evening Mr. and Mrs. Watters hosted several of Oceania Cruises’ most loyal guests for an exquisite dinner in Toscana, which of course included a celebratory toast. 

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Gala Tea with Chef

The celebration continued on September 14 at the Gala Teatime in Nautica Lounge. Executive Sous Chef Mario Santoro and the Nautica culinary team presented a magnificent event that included not only the artisan teas, delicious pastries and finger sandwiches that are guest favorites during the traditional daily teatime, but also ice sculptures, fine champagne, caviar and other special treats. Mr. Watters greatly enjoyed the opportunity to talk more with several of Oceania Cruises’ loyal guests. 

 

Mr. Watters and Guests enjoy Gala Tea Gala Tea with Guests
The year 2013 has been full of celebrations marking the landmark 10th anniversary of Oceania Cruises. As the final anniversary sailing concludes, Oceania Cruises’ founders, executives, officers, crew and guests continue to reflect on fond memories of the past decade at sea and look forward with great excitement to the next 10 years and beyond.

September 11, 2013

REGATTA HOSTS MASTER CHEF JEAN-LOUIS DUMONET

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Jean-Louis Dumonet, Karen Dumonet and Eric Barale

Regatta
has been playing host to two very special guests onboard the current Ultimate Panama Canal cruise. Master Chef Jean-Louis Dumonet and his wife, Karen, boarded Regatta in San Francisco for their first cruise ever and presented several cooking demonstrations during the sailing.

 

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Barale, Dumonet and Macouin
Chef Dumonet is executive chef of the Union Club in New York City and president of the North American region of Maîtres Cuisiniers de France. This prestigious association of some of the world’s leading chefs is dedicated to preserving and spreading the French culinary arts, encouraging training in cuisine and assisting in professional development. Maître Cuisinier, or Master Chef, is one of the most esteemed titles that a chef can aspire to attain. Oceania Cruises Culinary Director Eric Barale and Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger are also members of this eminent organization.

 

 

Chef Dumonet and his wife were joined by Barale as well as Traveling Senior Corporate Chef Renald Macouin in presenting entertaining and informative culinary demonstrations that were greatly enjoyed by guests throughout the voyage. As an additional treat, the Grand Dining Room menu featured one of Chef Dumonet’s special dishes each evening. Guests enjoyed creations such as Foie Gras Crème Brûlée, Sweet Corn Soup with Lobster, and Dumonet’s signature Chocolate Mousse.

August 26, 2013

A FOODIE IN DUBLIN

Image77B6349E-AA12-4BBE-BCD4-060BA4A91A5ENautica spent the weekend on the lush coasts of Ireland, calling on the nation’s capital of Dublin. As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I recently shared some of the fun I had taking in the famous sights from Trinity College to Dublin Castle to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Today I’d like to share another great way to experience Dublin: eating and drinking your way through the city.

One can’t discuss Irish cuisine without mentioning the potato. And I certainly enjoyed my fair share in Dublin, from mashed to roasted to boiled to fried. But the delights of Irish cuisine extend far beyond this staple and even well beyond the traditional Irish stew or bacon and cabbage.

Of course, being in Dublin, I had to pop into a pub and try some of these classics, and I was not disappointed. I began the morning with a traditional Irish breakfast of fried eggs, rashers, Irish bangers, boxty, and black and white pudding. For those not familiar with Irish culinary terms, that translates as fried eggs, bacon, sausage links, potato cakes and more sausage. “Pudding” refers to many dishes in the British Isles, several of which do not resemble the American notion of pudding. Black and white puddings are types of sausage, and Yorkshire pudding is a puffed, golden batter often baked in the drippings of the roast beef with which it is served.

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Breakfast

An Irish breakfast is not only immensely satisfying but also properly prepares you for a day of sampling traditional Irish beverages. I began with a tour of the Guinness Storehouse, which, thanks to a 9,000-year lease signed by Arthur Guinness in 1759, remains at its original site at St. James’s Gate. The site was chosen for its access to pure water, one of beer’s four essential ingredients, that flows from the Wicklow Mountains above Dublin. Also essential are the highest quality barley, hops and yeast. The yeast used in Guinness is so precious that a reserve supply is kept locked in a safe.

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Guiness Storehouse

I concluded my visit by learning how to pour the perfect Guinness. There are several secrets to this technique, including the tulip-shaped glass, the 45-degree angle of the first pour, the patience for it to settle, and the reverse angle of the tap that allows the second, direct pour to create the perfect foam head. But to truly appreciate why it takes so long for the bartender to pour your Guinness, you’ll have to visit the storehouse yourself and get certified on pouring the perfect pint!

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I fortified myself with some fish and chips before proceeding to the second historic establishment on my Irish foodie tour – the Old Jameson Distillery. Located on the site of the original distillery established by John Jameson in 1780, the tour revealed the history of the famous whiskey and the secret to its smooth, triple-distilled taste. At the end of the tour, a taste test pits Jameson against two other popular whiskeys. It was a highly effective marketing technique, as the competitors left me a bit sour-faced, but the Jameson went down smooth as silk. It was especially good paired with ginger ale in Jameson’s signature cocktail!

Lunch

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Having learned the secrets to two of Dublin’s signature drinks, it was time for some more delicious Irish food. For dinner I took the recommendation of fellow blogger Chef Kelly of the Bon Appétit Culinary Center, and she did not steer me wrong.

Marco Pierre White is an infamous British celebrity chef turned restaurateur. Talented Dublin chefs purvey his vision of simple, back-to-basics, perfectly executed cuisine in the warm, comfortable and romantic environment of Marco Pierre White Steakhouse & Grill. Irish steaks, chops and seafood are complemented by a few international specialties, such as shaved ham from Bayonne, France, served with a celeriac rémoulade. Most dishes feature the finest ingredients from throughout Ireland, from the beetroot salad with Ryefield goat cheese to the double Dreenan pork chop, the Ballycotton smoked salmon and the fish and chips with mushy peas. Each dish was perfectly prepared, and the flavors were exquisite.

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I was certainly satiated by my foodie’s tour of Dublin. If you have the opportunity to visit, be sure to enjoy some fabulous Irish cuisine while exploring all of the historic sights. Oceania Cruises offers several sailings that call on Dublin in 2014:

 

August 22, 2013

REGATTA LEAVES HER HEART IN SAN FRANCISCO

Regatta is wrapping up another fantastic summer in Alaska with a final stop in San Francisco before following sunny skies to the Southern Hemisphere. Highlights of the summer included Oceania Cruises’ 10-year anniversary sailing with Chairman and Founder Frank Del Rio and his wife, Marcia – godmother of Regatta and stops in destinations as far west as Kodiak and Seward. As Regatta calls on San Francisco, this seems like the perfect time to share some of the amazing shoreside activities available from this charming city by the bay.

Alcatraz Island is a 25-acre island in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, a little over a mile from the city. Designated as a maximum security prison in 1933, Alcatraz housed many infamous criminals, including Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly and Robert Franklin Straud, known as the “Birdman.” The tour of the island includes a roundtrip ferry ride with scenic views of the bay, the Golden Gate Bridge and the city, an opportunity to explore the island with a tour guide, access to the prison and a fascinating 45-minute cellhouse audio tour featuring interviews with former inmates and prison guards.

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Considered one of the most beautiful bridges in the world and certainly the most photographed, the Golden Gate Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world from 1937 until 1964 when New York City’s Verrazano Narrows Bridge opened. Completed in four years, the tremendous 746-foot-tall towers, enormous main cables and signature orange color attract 10 million visitors annually. And the views are stunning from either side of the bridge!

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San Francisco boasts several highly regarded museums, and many of the museum sites are as famous as the collections themselves. The Legion of Honor is a three-quarter-scaled adaptation of the Palais de la Légion d’Honneur in Paris, perched high on the headlands above the Golden Gate, offering fantastic views of the bridge and the city as well as a wonderful collection. Reopened in 2005, the new de Yong Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco is an impressive modern building in the heart of San Francisco’s beautiful Golden Gate Park.

San Francisco is also renowned for its cuisine. The birthplace of California Cuisine, the city is also home to some of the best Asian, Italian, Mexican and fusion cuisine in the world. Wine lovers will not want to miss an opportunity to tour Napa Valley, which offers world-class wineries as well as exquisite restaurants by famed chefs such as Thomas Keller, Michael Chiarello and Masaharu Morimoto.

If you’re looking for the opportunity to visit this amazing city, Regatta returns to San Francisco several times in 2014. Because many cruises embark or disembark here, you can take advantage of Oceania Cruises’ pre- or post-cruise hotel programs and spend a few extra days exploring the city before or after your cruise. It will be an experience you will never forget!

Regatta in San Francisco:

July 22, 2013

NAUTICA GUESTS FOLLOW THE MIDNIGHT SUN

Guests onboard Nautica wrapped up a thrilling journey to the top of the world today on Voyage of the Midnight Sun, and to celebrate we are sharing photos provided by guests who have enjoyed this adventure in the past. Typically Oceania Cruises offers an itinerary that ventures this far north just once a year, and it is a special trip for guests who truly yearn to explore the far reaches of the world. Remote and indescribably beautiful, these northern ports offer a glimpse of untouched areas seldom seen by most travelers.

Kristiansand, the capital of Vest-Agder County in Southern Norway, is Norway’s fifth largest city, with approximately 90,000 residents. Founded in the 17th century by King Christian IV, the old section of the town is brimming with character, notably its strictly right-angled streets called kvadraturen in Norwegian. This photo of the shores of Kristiansand captures the quaint beauty of the city.

1 Kristiansand Shores

Equally as enchanting is Bergen, which has been one of Norway’s major port cities since the 9th century. On the Troldhaugen & Fantoft Stave Church Tour, guests enjoyed a fascinating tour of Bergen and the suburbs including a stop at Troldhaugen, the home Edvard Grieg, one of Norway’s most famous composers. The excursion also visited the stunning Fantoft Stave Church, originally built in 1150. After a fire in 1992, the church was reconstructed exactly like the original, using timber from the Sognefjord forests north of Bergen.

2 Bergen 2 Bergen Grieg's House

In North Cape many guests participated in a crab fishing expedition on a deep-sea raft in the waters near Sarnesfjord. King crabs can live up to 30 years, measure up to 6.5 feet between their claws and weigh as much as 22 pounds. The king crabs caught on this excursion weighed in the neighborhood of 10 pounds, and guests enjoyed a fantastic meal at the end of the day.

3 Cape North Giant Alaska King Crab 3 Cape North Giant Alsaka King Crab 2

3 North Cape Crab Excusion 3 Cape North Preparing crab for lunch 3 Cape North Preparig Crab 2

One of the northernmost towns in the world, Hammerfest is situated on Kvaløya Island. The modern town was completely reconstructed after it was destroyed in World War II. The Hammerfest and Sami Camp Walking Tour explores the streets of this beautiful town and also visits Mikkelgammen Sami camp, where guests learn about the history and culture of the Sami people. On this excursion guests were treated to a reindeer spotting along the way.

4 Hammerfest Sami Camp Excursion 4 Wild Reindeer

4 Sami Elder 4 Sami Herders

Surrounded by mountain peaks and glaciers that rise majestically from the Arctic Ocean, Magdalena Bay is embraced by absolute wilderness and is covered with ice most of the year. One of the most remote and exotic places in the world, the bay is renowned for its pristine beauty. Very few travelers ever make it this far north, which is why this cruise was especially exciting for Oceania Cruises guests.

5 Magdalene Bay

The journey ended in Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark since the 13th century. Far from being spoiled by modern developments, the city has done a remarkable job blending 20th century additions with the old world charm.

Copenhagen Canals

This unique cruise that makes its way to some of the northernmost destinations in the world is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and usually this type of itinerary is offered only once a year. Next year Nautica will journey north on the Path of the Midnight Sun, departing August 2, 2014. Don’t miss the chance to see some of the most remote and beautiful places on earth!

 

Photos by Peter Pretty

July 15, 2013

10TH ANNIVERSARY SAILING ONBOARD REGATTA CONCLUDES

Chairman and CEO Frank Del Rio recently concluded Oceania Cruises’ 10th anniversary sailing onboard Regatta, the ship that started it all. Regatta sailed from Seattle on the Coastal Alaska voyage on July 5th, exactly 10 years after the ship set sail on her inaugural voyage. Mr. Del Rio hosted the sailing with his wife, Marcia, who is Regatta’s godmother.

The sailing featured numerous celebrations in honor of the milestone anniversary. The exceptional culinary team flexed their creative muscles at the Gala Tea. High tea is a time-honored tradition onboard the ships of Oceania Cruises and is held each day at four o’clock in Horizons lounge. But the Gala Tea was a unique celebration that went above and beyond the traditional teatime selections. The talented chefs spent many hours preparing not only a vast assortment of finger sandwiches and pastries but also exquisite sculptures made from ice, fruit and chocolate to adorn Horizons for the special event.

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On one evening Mr. and Mrs. Del Rio hosted a special dinner in Terrace Café for some of Oceania Cruises’ most loyal guests. Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger prepared a special menu that included Steamed Prince Rupert Wild Halibut “au Caviar” with a Fennel and Saffron Emulsion, as well as Roasted Veal Rack Loin with Cocotte Potatoes.

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One of the most special evenings was the 10th Anniversary Oceania Club Cocktail Reception in honor of all of Oceania Cruises’ loyal guests as well as the dedicated officers, staff and crew. Some of the most traveled guests in Oceania Cruises’ history were onboard this sailing, including Mr. and Mrs. Kohel, Diamond Oceania Club members who were on their 56th cruise. Also recognized were Mr. and Mrs. Starzman, Platinum Oceania Club members who had sailed on Regatta’s inaugural voyage on July 5, 2003.

Platinum Members

Mr. Del Rio took the opportunity to thank all of Oceania Cruises’ guests who have made the past decade possible. He also joined Captain Vitaliy Silvachynsky and General Manager Jason Gelineau in honoring the team members who have been with Oceania Cruises for its 10-year history.

 

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Frank Del Rio, Captain Silvachynsky and GM Gelineau
 
Culinary Director - Franck Garanger
Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger is recognized


Captain Silvachynsky himself was one of those congratulated, along with Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger. Several others were also recognized, including those pictured below.

Cabin Steward - Freddy Reyes
Steward Freddy Reyes
Bosun - Kosta Niolov
Bosun Kosta Niolov

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cellar Master - Marlito Medollar
Cellar Master Marlito Medollar
 
Chef De Cuisine - Edgar Valguna
Chef de Cuisine Edgar Valguna


 

 

Chef de Partie - Dindo Sabado
Chef de Partie Dindo Sabado
Chef De Partie - Jonathon Bravo
Chef de Partie Jonathon Bravo


 

 

Chief Purser - Doru Gherghin
Chief Purser Doru Gherghin
Jr Sous Chef - Amador Gutierrez
Jr Sous Chef Amador Gutierrez


 

Mechanic - Evgeni Popov
Mechanic Evgeni Popov
Night Auditor - Emily Flores
Night Auditor Emily Flores


 

Staff Captain - Damir Kurilic
Staff Captain Damir Kurilic

 

The sailing ended with a spectacular show in the Regatta Lounge, after which the entire crew paraded into the lounge to join guests in a final celebration. It was truly a historic and unforgettable 10th anniversary sailing – a wonderful celebration of the past 10 years at sea and the perfect way to kick off the next decade to come!

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July 7, 2013

ANNIVERSARY SAILING CELEBRATES 10 YEARS OF SPECTACULAR DESTINATIONS AND FINE CUISINE

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Greetings from the Italian Escapade sailing onboard Riviera and the ongoing celebration of Oceania Cruises’ 10th anniversary. It has been a wonderful cruise so far, and I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to meet many of our past and first time guests. I couldn’t be more proud of the officers and crew who continue to make everyone onboard a part of the Oceania Cruises family.

DSCN1004-2Oceania Cruises was founded on the vision of a group of people with a passion for spectacular destinations and fine cuisine, and we are enjoying both as part of this anniversary sailing. In celebration of 10 years of culinary delights, Senior Executive Chef Alexis Quaretti and Bon Appétit Culinary Center Executive Chef Kathryn Kelly hosted a culinary demonstration. I welcomed guests to the event and shared a bit about the culinary history of Oceania Cruises before turning it over to the experts to share some of the secrets behind our exquisite cuisine.

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As we were celebrating 10 years at sea, it seemed appropriate that the chefs would prepare dishes from the sea. They demonstrated three guest favorites: Salmon Gravlax with Cucumber Salad, Poached Halibut with Lemon Cream Cuisson on a Quinoa Cake, and the ever-popular Red Ginger specialty – Miso-Glazed Chilean Sea Bass. It was both educational and heartwarming to see Chef Quaretti and Chef Kelly, two special members of the Oceania Cruises family, working together to share their knowledge with our guests and illustrating one of the reasons that our guests have continued to return to us for the past 10 years: the finest cuisine at sea prepared by some of the most talented – and entertaining – chefs in the culinary world.

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Soon after the demonstration, Riviera dropped anchor in Sorrento with the impressive Mount Vesuvius looming in the background. Situated on a terrace overlooking the splendid Amalfi coastline, Sorrento is imbued with charm and echoes of the ancient past.

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There are a number of appealing ways to spend a day in Sorrento, from going to see the ruins of ancient Pompeii to visiting the Blue Grotto in Capri to simply walking around the rustic, sun-drenched town of Sorrento. The Blue Grotto was on the bucket list of many guests, so a group of us boarded a ferry and headed to Capri for the afternoon.

The grotto is a uniquely beautiful sea cave on the coast of the island of Capri. A small opening in the cave at the surface of the water and a larger opening beneath the surface provide the only light sources. We entered the grotto through the small opening, just large enough for a rowboat to pass through. Inside the cavern itself was dark, but the water was illuminated with a brilliant blue glow. The effect was absolutely dazzling. It’s difficult to fully capture the beauty of the experience in a photograph, so if you haven’t visited the Blue Grotto, I highly recommend you add it to your own bucket list.

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After a spectacular day in Sorrento, we returned to the ship and enjoyed an excellent dinner at Jacques. Then everyone gathered on the pool deck for a sail away party.

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Cruise Director Leslie Jon was emcee of the event, and General Manager Thierry Tholon led the entire crew in a parade around the decks. This was truly an emotional evening as the officers and crew of Riviera celebrated Oceania Cruises' 10th anniversary with our cherished guests.

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I look forward to more celebrations with our guests, officers and crew, and I’ll share further stories here on the blog as our Italian Escapade continues.

July 6, 2013

Oceania Cruises President Kunal Kamlani Launches 10th Anniversary Sailing with Chef Kelly on a Culinary Discovery Tour in Livorno

L1070125Summer has arrived in Tuscany and so has Oceania Cruises President Kunal Kamlani, who joined me to host a special sailing on Riviera in celebration of Oceania Cruises’ 10th anniversary. What better way to celebrate than with fellow food and wine enthusiasts on a Culinary Discovery Tour in Tuscany!

We started the morning in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center onboard the ship for an orientation to the day’s schedule and then boarded our coach for a short ride to the Mercato Centrale in Livorno.

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This market has been a favorite of mine for years because it yields exquisite products, and I also love its atmosphere. Like many public daily markets that we visit, there is a central closed building as well as individual stalls spilling out on all sides from the main market. As July is upon us, there were willowy yellow zucchini blossoms, fresh cherries and fragrant tomatoes. Don’t you just love the smell of a great tomato?

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All guests were given a shopping assignment, so they set off to experience the local ambiance of the market. Some stopped for a cappuccino and others headed to our favorite cheese shop. One couple was celebrating their 50-year anniversary with us, and this was the perfect beginning to their cruise and celebration.

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L1070088We enjoyed an hour at the market exploring the meat and cheese counters, vegetable stalls and fishmongers. Then our sous chefs, Asif and Raj, gathered up our purchases and returned to the ship to prepare for this afternoon’s cooking class in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center. The rest of us returned to the coach for a miniature picnic of Parma ham, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, focaccia, cherries and fresh mozzarella to fortify us for the day’s adventure in Tuscany.

I have led this Culinary Discovery Tour several times now, and every time we drive up the long cypress-lined driveway of Torre a Cenaia, I feel like I am on a film set for a quintessential Tuscan movie! The family is always so welcoming and happy to see our group from Oceania Cruises.

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We began with a visit to the winery and cellars, and on this day they were bottling, which was very exciting. We heard the constant clinking of the bottles as they left the warehouse to be taken into the cellar for storage. Outside of the winery, our horse-drawn carriage awaited us. The driver told me that the horses were quite frisky this morning because the grass is so lush and green – and they had been eating all night!

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Off we went for a tour of the villa. We saw the sangiovese and vermentino vineyards, lovely ponds and local pheasants, and everyone enjoyed taking in the beauty of this authentic Tuscan farm. At the end of the tour, we arrived at the 300-year-old farmhouse that had been converted into a kitchen with a wood-fired oven. Chef David was there to greet us and begin my favorite part of the tour – the cooking!

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Pizza dough was the first item on the agenda. While making our dough, we learned that some of our guests were of Italian heritage, so this was like coming home for them and a great way to spend the first day of their cruise with us! While our pizza dough rested, we moved on to focaccia. We shaped the dough into an oval shape, punched it down with our fingers and spread it with olive oil (lots of it!) and sea salt. Into the oven it went, and while it cooked, we began tasting some wines from the Pitti family vineyards. We started with a chardonnay–sauvignon blanc blend and then moved on to two vermentinos, one quite young and the other aged in acacia oak for a bit longer. Both wines were spectacular, and the second was particularly good with the family’s salami, which made the perfect complement to our wine tasting.

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Next up was the highlight of our trip – pizza! We took full advantage of the farm’s bounty and made too many pizzas to count – with vegetables, farm sausage, cheese, salami and even just plain tomato sauce. At the market I had purchased some burrata cheese, and we enjoyed it with our pizza, focaccia and, of course, more wine! This time we tasted a delicious sangiovese, a rosé and a sangiovese-cabernet blend.

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L1070130As we sat together family-style around the table, sampling the wines and pizza and focaccia, we all commented on how this was such a wonderful way to travel. To meet and interact with locals, share their home and cooking secrets, and relax over great food and wine – what a blessing!

Our meal would not have been complete without dessert, so for our final recipe we prepared cantucci. This sweet bread is often baked twice to make biscotti, although we would enjoy the original version baked once in the wood-fired oven. We grated fresh lemon to add to the eggs, sugar, butter, flour and anise seeds that made up this yummy “biscuit,” as they call it in Livorno.

While the cantucci was baking, we strolled back to the winery to sample a late-harvest vermentino and take in the fabulous surroundings of olive trees, fresh blooming lavender, sunflowers poking their early green stems from the rich earth and sensuous flowering annuals overflowing their pots. Soon the cantucci was ready, and we enjoyed its buttery deliciousness as the grand finale to our day at this beautiful Tuscan farm. It was then time to say “arrivederci” and return to Riviera.

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After a short siesta on the coach ride back to the ship, we met at the Bon Appétit Culinary Center for a class celebrating the foods of Tuscany and the many things we purchased at the market that day. We had found some zucchini blossoms, so we made zucchini fritters with chickpea flour. We also found fabulous cherry tomatoes and made a batch of Chianti-style crostini rossi. The class focused primarily on fresh pasta, and I was so proud of all the great pasta that our students made.

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L1070136We topped off the day with a salted caramel ice cream and a pine nut cake that we had purchased at the market.

What a great way to kick off this 10th anniversary sailing! Kunal had the chance to visit at length with some guests who were on their first voyage with Oceania Cruises as well as some guests who had sailed with us before. I always enjoy having our executives along on Culinary Discovery Tours, not only because they are true lovers of food and wine but also because they are able to interact with the guests and see how much everyone enjoys this unique program and the truly special experience it offers. There are more Culinary Discovery Tours to come on this cruise, and I look forward to sharing them with you soon!

June 25, 2013

BOB BINDER JOINS CHEF KELLY TO LAUNCH NEW CULINARY DISCOVERY TOUR IN TALLINN

Upon my first visit to Tallinn a few years ago, I was enchanted by the spires, pastel-colored buildings and fairytale-like qualities of the Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. So over this past winter, I decided to design a Culinary Discovery Tour that would highlight the unique personality and intriguing history of this magical city. This week I was thrilled to be able to launch the new tour on our anniversary sailing celebrating Oceania Cruises’ 10th year at sea. Oceania Cruises Vice Chairman Bob Binder is hosting the sailing, and he was pleased to join me on this exciting new Culinary Discovery Tour.

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Because the sea is such an integral part of Estonian culture, we crafted our tour around a local fisherman and famous Tallinn personality,Vladislav Korzets. He is not only a fisherman but also a poet, cookbook author and naturalist.

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Vladislav welcomed us at the seaside village of Pringi, northeast of Tallinn. This fishing village has an immaculately restored facility with reconstructed fishing sheds, smokehouses, drying racks and net-mending platforms.

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On the grassy banks of the sea, we watched in awe as our host brought forth dish after dish of fish specialties – each with an explanation of the fish, its fishing history and the best ways to prepare or preserve it!

The first offering was a steaming bowl of fragrant fish stew, made with pike and leeks in a light milk broth. Vladislav explained that traditionally milk was only added to fish soup for a celebration, as milk was not plentiful in Estonia and was reserved for special occasions. Served with the fish stew was a croissant-like pastry with cheese and a smoked Tallinn sardine with herbs. Absolutely delicious! We were also treated to several wines to try with our fish. Both the soup and the wines were a big hit with Bob and all of our guests.

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Tallinn sardines are quite a delicacy, and each one of us received a baby blue can of these little treasures to take home with us. We were informed that there is a season for these fish and that the quota had just recently been reached – halting the fishing season for this year. So our timing was perfect, and our host was very generous to share this special treat with us.

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Next up was a brown bread with a pickled sardine and some vinegar and herbs. This was a real crowd favorite, as the tangy brown bread, sour vinegar, salty fish and fresh herbs made the perfect flavor combination.

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Vladislav then brought out a more exotic fish for us to try: smoked eel. This, too, is a delicacy because after the fall of the Soviet empire, Germans came to Estonia and their unquenchable demand for eel drove up the price. Some of us had never tried smoked eel, and a few were a bit nervous about tasting this exotic delicacy, but as culinary explorers, we all forged ahead. To our collective delight, we found it to be delicious! It tasted a bit like smoked monkfish – mild and buttery.

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The last two dishes were pike and salmon. The pike was marinated and then grilled, and the salmon was pegged to a stake and smoked over an open fire right there in front of us!

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After a few magical hours with Vladislav, it was time to bid a fond farewell. We all agreed that it had been quite a treat to see a true local legend in his element.

On our way back to the coach, we strolled past a vegetable and herb garden and came upon a fisherman smoking a huge catch of the day. He generously lifted the blanketed roof of the smoker to show us his technique, and we enjoyed yet another enlightening culinary experience thanks to the kindness of the locals.

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We then returned to the coach and were off to the Old Town for a tour of the Luscher & Matiesen wine cellar.

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We were greeted by one of the owners, an entrepreneur who restored this former distillery into a classic Tallinn-style wine bar and one of the city’s most popular destinations. 

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I have always found the winery and coffeehouse scene in Tallinn to be so unique and inviting: the pastel walls of basement enclaves with overstuffed sofas and candlelight, where locals talk politics and drink wine into the wee hours of the night. You can sense the energy in this city, having won back its independence and now celebrating freedoms so long denied. It was delightful sharing the dreams of this young entrepreneur, and while many of the wines offered were imported from faraway lands, we still enjoyed an authentic taste of Estonian culture.

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After sipping a few wines, we meandered down the cobblestone streets to a new café housed in the restored bank building, Scheeli Panga Kohvik. It was time for dessert, so we enjoyed a delicate cheesecake as well as a sample of Vana Tallinn, a wonderful local liqueur that to me tastes like a caramel brandy.

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As we strolled back through the unique buildings and quaint shops of the Old Town to meet the coach and return to the ship, we all agreed that Tallinn was a place we would like to visit again. Once back onboard, we met in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center for a Flavors of the Sea class, so we could master some of the techniques used to prepare the delicious fish we had enjoyed that day. And to further preserve our memories, we made a yummy vanilla ice cream flavored with Vana Tallinn. None of us will soon forget the delicious flavors of this charming and historic city.

June 21, 2013

BEETS, SAUERKRAUT AND CHERRIES: Can you guess where Chef Kelly is?

L1050109-2One of the nicest things about our second season of Culinary Discovery ToursTM is returning to see the local chefs and culinary experts that we met last season in the Baltic and Mediterranean. 

Such was the case this week in Riga when Chef Karlis greeted us at the port with hugs and stories of the cold Latvian winter. Chef Karlis was born and educated in Seattle but moved to Latvia 10 years ago in search of the authentic “peasant” cuisine that he refers to as “Latvian fusion.” This balance of simplicity, Baltic ingredients and seasonality is the hallmark of the restaurants and food trucks for which Chef Karlis is now known in Riga.

The sky was blue, the temperature was perfect and we were off to the Central Market. This impressive collection of five 20th-century German zeppelin hangars was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and houses more than 3,000 vendors in 778,000 square feet. Each of the five hangars is dedicated to its own product: fish, dairy, meat, dried and pickled delicacies, or baked goods. The colorful and impressive displays held our attention, and until we looked up, it was easy to forget that we were in a building that was once a hangar for gigantic zeppelins! 

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We began in the fish pavilion, where Chef Karlis informed us that the fish in Latvia primarily come from freshwater streams. We then continued on to the pavilion dedicated to smoked fish and pickled vegetables to sample some sauerkraut, pickled carrots, garlic-infused pickles and curry-turmeric cabbage. We also tasted several local cheeses laced with nettles and herbs. 

 

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Since it’s spring in Latvia, the peas and cherries were abundant. There were also cups full of wild strawberries from the local forests.

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My favorite part of this market is the section devoted to flowers, and on this trip I found them to be just as beautiful as I remembered. The rows and rows of colorful begonias, petunias, hanging baskets and herbs were just breathtaking!

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After a lively stroll through the market, we were off to Chef Karlis’ teaching kitchen in the old city.  The kitchen sits on the second floor of a charming bed and breakfast that is typical of the café-bohemian style of this quaint neighborhood. 

Chef Karlis and his staff had set up his kitchen with work stations where we would help him prepare our Latvian fusion luncheon. The menu for the day was a chilled beet soup with quail egg and goat cheese, a braised pork belly with spring vegetables and a fruit salad with kefir and black bread crumble. 

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L1060927Our job as sous chefs was to peel and chop roasted beets, shuck fresh peas, shell quail eggs and scrub baby carrots. With aprons on and knives in hand, our tour group pitched in and had a lot of fun working together. Chef Karlis instructed us as to how to complete each task and also shared with us his culinary philosophy.

After about an hour in the kitchen, it was time to take a seat at the beautifully set table. This is one of my favorite times on any Culinary Discovery Tour – chatting with our guests, interacting with chefs and culinary experts in their home settings and relaxing in an authentically local environment. On this tour we were joined by Bob Binder, who is not only one of the founders of Oceania Cruises but also one of the creators of our Bon Appétit Culinary Center. Bob certainly enjoyed jumping in with the kitchen prep work and mingling with our guests in a relaxed atmosphere. And I have to say I was quite impressed with Bob’s knife skills!

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Lunch was delightful. The beet soup was an elegant combination of sweet from the beets, creamy from the goat cheese and texture from the quail egg – all topped with the spike of fresh and fragrant dill. 

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The pork was fork tender and lightened by the fresh, seasonal peas and baby carrots. Chef Karlis garnished this dish with pea shoots and a radish peel, which I thought elevated the rustic dish to the level of haute cuisine! The meal also included a tasting of three local beers that made for great conversation about which ones we liked best with which dishes. We finished our lunch with wild forest strawberries and other berries on top of a crumble made with dried black bread and a yogurt and berry coulis. 

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The day was such fun and was perfectly capped off with a return to the Bon Appétit Culinary Center onboard Marina for a class on crepe making, using cheeses, mushrooms, meats, tomatoes and herbs purchased at the market earlier that day.

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We topped our dessert crepes with my new recipe for salted caramel ice cream, which I’ve included below in case you’d like to try it at home.

  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • 8 egg yolks, beaten
  • ½ teaspoon plus ½ teaspoon Maldon salt

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the cream and milk. Heat, stirring frequently, until nearly boiling, but do not allow the mixture to boil. Meanwhile, in a separate medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar and water. Cook, without stirring, until the sugar caramelizes to a light brown color, about 3 to 5 minutes. As soon as the sugar caramelizes, stir the hot cream mixture into the caramel. Decrease the heat to low.

In a medium bowl, stir together the beaten eggs and a small amount of the hot caramel mixture to temper the eggs. Pour the tempered egg mixture back into the saucepan with the remaining caramel mixture. Cook on low for about 10 minutes to form a custard.

Add ½ teaspoon of the salt to the mixture. Transfer the mixture to an ice cream maker and prepare according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If using an ice cream maker with a frozen bowl, let the mixture cool slightly before transferring to the bowl, but be careful not to cool the mixture too much or the caramel will solidify. When the ice cream is prepared, sprinkle it with the remaining ½ teaspoon of Maldon salt.

I hope you enjoy the recipe, and I hope you have the chance to join us on a Culinary Discovery Tour in Riga on an Oceania Cruises voyage in the near future!

June 15, 2013

BOB BINDER & CHEF KELLY LAUNCH NEW BALTIC CULINARY DISCOVERY TOURS ON ANNIVERSARY SAILING

Vice Chairman Bob Binder is currently onboard Marina hosting a sailing in celebration of Oceania Cruises’ 10th anniversary. I’ve joined him on this wonderful voyage because, as part of the many festivities and special events, we are launching an exciting new season of Culinary Discovery Tours in the Baltic. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Oceania Cruises’ 10 years of destination-rich itineraries and exquisite cuisine than with a series of new tours offering an in-depth, hands-on culinary experience of a diverse array of local cultures.

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Today Bob and I kicked off the Baltic season by welcoming guests on our new Culinary Discovery Tour in Oslo, which includes a visit to the famed Mathallen Food Hall and a lunch with beer pairings at a local restaurant that is both historic and trendy. 

L1060818We began the morning in Marina’s Bon Appétit Culinary Center with an overview of New Nordic Cuisine, which has been setting the pace in the local, fresh and simple culinary trend among chefs worldwide. Initiated by the chefs of Noma restaurant in Copenhagen, a group of 14 chefs from the Nordic region held a summit in 2004 to discuss their passion for local, fresh, simple and sustainable cuisine, which soon put this culinary region on the map. We also discussed the salmon farming industry and how Norway continues to lead the world in the innovative arena of aquaculture.

After the overview, we were off on this sunny, Nordic spring day to our first stop at the courtyard of the Mathallen Food Hall. We were greeted by our host for the day, the owner of the smallest pub in Oslo, which seats only 16 guests and was officially opening that night. Before entering the pristine food hall to explore the 33 fascinating stalls, we were treated to a tasting of three artisan beers – so we would be fortified for our shopping adventure. Not knowing much about beer, I was enlightened about this region’s passion for beer and the wide diversity of brewing styles and products. 

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Then we ventured into the food hall for a tasting of cheeses and smoked salmon. The Mathallen Food Hall is a feast for the senses, with each vendor presenting their specialty product in eye-catching and innovative ways. 

 

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The airy, ultra-modern building is quite inviting and caters to those who want to wander and taste, as well as the business person who pops in for a quick bite of lunch. After a brief orientation, we were off to try some local cheeses – an assortment of soft blues and aged sheep cheese with a hint of juniper berry. We were then treated to a lovely taste of smoked salmon and cream cheese as well as another local beer. 

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Each pair of guests were given a shopping assignment and 200 kroner, so we had about 30 minutes of free time to purchase local and seasonal produce, some cured meat, specialty preserves and other delicacies. We wandered the market, taking in all of the eye-popping displays and delicious offerings. There were even beautiful carvings made from a turnip!


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L1060863One of the things I love most about our Culinary Discovery Tours is the opportunity to interact with the local vendors.  And the experience is all the more meaningful because we are able to return to the Bon Appétit Culinary Center onboard the ship, where we can taste our purchases and make local dishes. The hands-on experience gives us an even greater appreciation and understanding of our experiences ashore.

At the cheese tasting, one of our guests purchased her favorite cheese and planned to share it with the class later that day.

L1060877When our shopping was complete, it was time to take a brief walk to our luncheon spot, Akersberget, which sits at the base of a mountain that was previously a mining site. The red-painted wood building had a rustic yet upscale Nordic ambiance. This charming and very trendy restaurant is booked for months in advance, but we were fortunate that our host had agreed to open for a special luncheon exclusively for Oceania Cruises guests! 

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We took a seat in the restaurant and were soon poured a glass of beer to welcome us. (I’m starting to figure out that beer really is the national drink of Norway!) The chefs were beginning to plate our lunch, so we grabbed a quick sneak peek at their handiwork.

 

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Soon we were served a fabulous white fish in a light sauce with new potatoes, spring carrots, baby spinach and radish foam. Bob said the potatoes were his favorite, and we soon learned the secret: they were simmered in butter, herbs, sugar and – of course – beer!

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L1060889We all enjoyed sitting around the table together, not only savoring a wonderful meal but also meeting new friends and hearing about where they had traveled. We finished our lunch with a chocolate fondant cake with fresh strawberries and, you guessed it, a dark beer that paired perfectly with the chocolate!

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After saying a heartfelt thank you to our host and chefs, we boarded the coach for a quick tour of downtown Oslo and its distinctive architecture.  The city was alive with locals and tourists, all enjoying the beautiful, crisp, sunny day. Maybe it’s just me, but it always seems that there is more oxygen in the Baltic, and today I had happy lungs breathing in this clean Nordic air!

As with all of our Culinary Discovery Tours, we met back at the Bon Appétit Culinary Center onboard for a brief class to bring together what we saw and learned today. Bob was pleased to discover that the culinary center has a magical machine that churns out granitas in just 20 minutes. So we started by making my special recipe using champagne, lemon and St. Germain, the liqueur made from the fragrant Alpine elderflower. As we sipped our cocktails, each guest shared what they had purchased at the market today.

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The class was devoted to salmon, so we made smoked and poached salmon rillettes with toasts, as well as gravlax. It was a delightful way to end our special day in this enchanting city of trendy restaurants, stunning architecture and, of course, its passion for beer!

Just in case my elderflower cocktail appeals to you as much as a beer does, here is the recipe:

  • 1 bottle (750 ml) cold sparkling wine
  • 1½ cups simple syrup, infused with lemon rind and cooled
  • ½ cup St. Germain elderflower liqueur

Pour all ingredients into and ice cream maker and prepare according to manufacturer's instructions. Enjoy!

June 14, 2013

CHEF KELLY LAUNCHES A NEW CULINARY DISCOVERY TOUR IN RHODES

I have so many fond memories of visits to the Greek island of Rhodes with Oceania Cruises. One of my first is from 2008, when we celebrated my mother’s 80th birthday on an Oceania Cruises’ voyage. Underneath the shadow of the ruins in the old city of Rhodes, I had a memorable lunch at Hatzikelis, feasting on some of the best grilled fish I’d ever had. Until then I had never tasted tzatziki – that heavenly mixture of cucumber, garlic, dill, lemon juice and creamy Greek yogurt. I was certain I would never be able to replicate this lunch at home, so I promised myself that I would return someday.

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I have returned to Rhodes many times. Since joining Oceania Cruises as executive chef of the Bon Appétit Culinary Center in 2011, I have shared many meals at that family restaurant with friends and family as well as guests and chefs on Marina and Riviera.

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While hosting a luncheon here last fall for Susie Heller and David Shalleck, two of our Bon Appétit Culinary Center chefs, we were all inspired to ask the family to host a Culinary Discovery Tour. They are always so welcoming, taking us into the kitchen and sharing today’s catch as well as their family’s Greek cooking secrets.

Over the winter I worked with the family and staff at Hatzikelis to design an authentic Greek cooking and dining experience for our guests. When Riviera docked for the first time in Rhodes this summer, those plans became a reality, and Hatzikelis hosted their first Culinary Discovery Tour.

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After a very brief walk from the ship, we arrived at the restaurant to tables overflowing with fresh produce, fish, cheeses and bread. Warm smiles and ouzo greeted us on the patio of our hosts’ family restaurant. We were told that the restaurant was originally a bakery, but when Pappa retired and the family business passed to his son, the passion for fish was so profound that the bakery was turned into a fish taverna. Not only was the present owner there to greet us and cook with us, but Pappa also dropped in to round out the hospitality.

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The first dish we made was spinach pie, and we began with the phyllo dough. We made the dough and rolled it out, then filled it with a spinach and feta cheese filling. We popped it into the oven, and our first dish was complete!

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Our next dish was the traditional salad using barley rusks, tomatoes, capers, lettuce, a lovely vinaigrette and sprinkles of fresh oregano.

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No Greek lunch is complete without grilled eggplant. We were able to master the art of charring an eggplant, scooping it out and filling it with a mixture of tomatoes, onions, dill, mint, oregano and Greek yogurt. Smoky eggplant – yum!

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My niece, Sarah, was traveling with me on this cruise, so she stepped in to make the tzatziki. She was so impressed with the family hospitality and Greek food that she promised to return soon and asked if, in the meantime, they might find her a suitable Greek husband! We all enjoyed a good laugh at that comment, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she does return soon (perhaps with a husband of her own choosing).

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The owner of the restaurant was busy making squid risotto and mussels saganaki, two more dishes we would enjoy over lunch. He also described how to select fresh squid and octopus, just in case we happened to find ourselves in the market for a fresh octopus! Soon after hatching their eggs, squid and octopus die, and often these less than desirable specimens are fished and sold. But we learned how to select a fresh one, which should be firm to the touch and resistant to pressure.

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While various dishes were being finalized and the staff was readying our lunch, we were treated to a behind-the-scenes visit to the kitchen. Now that we had learned how to select fresh squid, we acquired the same expertise regarding fresh fish. We also learned how to clean and filet a sea bass and how to grill it over open flames. The only seasonings used on fish at Hatzikelis are lemon juice and olive oil.

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Finally it was time to sit for lunch and enjoy some delicious local wines and the dishes we had made with the Hatzikelis family. The food just kept coming and coming, with the finale being the day’s catch of fresh fish, which was perfectly grilled.

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After saying farewell with lots of hugs goodbye and promises to return, guests were free to stroll the beautiful cobblestone streets of Rhodes. Later we returned to Riviera for a cooking class in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center to review what we had learned earlier that day.

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If you are planning a cruise that includes Rhodes on either Marina or Riviera this year, you will definitely want to put this special Culinary Discovery Tour on your “must-do list.” It’s a fabulous day with a friendly family who makes you feel welcome – and well fed – in the warmth and hospitality of the Greek island of Rhodes.

June 11, 2013

A DAY IN DUBLIN

Marina just made her first stop in Dublin for the summer season, which inspired me to pull out photos of my recent trip to Dublin as Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises. If you haven’t been, there are several opportunities on sailings this summer and next, and I highly recommend exploring this wonderful city steeped in history.

If you select a sailing with an overnight stay in Dublin, you might spend some time exploring the beautiful Irish countryside. While some decry Ireland’s frequent rains, the reward is lush green hills, verdant pastures and the iconic rainbows – often they even come in pairs! 

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Despite the amount of rainfall, Ireland also gets plenty of sunshine, and I enjoyed a beautiful sunny day during my visit to Dublin. With its heart on its sleeve, Dublin doesn’t pretend or try to be something it is not. Everywhere I looked I saw its jovial spirit written on the faces of its residents, its spirituality exuding from the many churches, its conviviality embodied in the pub culture, and its ancient and modern history harmoniously situated side by side throughout the city.

Church and Brewery

One of the nice things about Dublin is that many of the major landmarks can be found along the River Liffey, so I was able to see quite a few sights by meandering parallel to the river for a mile or so.

River Liffey

I started the day with a jaunt through St. Stephen’s Green. An oasis from the hustle and bustle of urban life, this is one of the larger city parks, covering 22 acres. With more than two miles of walking trails and a faithful adherence to its original Victorian layout, the park is a wonderful example of this country’s passion for landscape design.

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After a quiet walk in the park, I headed a few blocks north to visit Trinity College. A highlight of any trip to Dublin is a stop at Trinity College Library, which displays the original Book of Kells. It is said that the Irish “saved civilization” when Celtic monks set about meticulously copying the books that were being destroyed across Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire. Thought to have been created in the ninth century, the Book of Kells is an immaculately preserved, illuminated manuscript of the four Gospels. Written in Latin, the calligraphy of the text is itself a work of art, and the intricacy of the colorful illustrations is astounding. The book is in a locked display case, so only two pages are viewable, but these are certainly worth seeing. Replicas of other pages are on display along with a treasure trove of other ancient works. Unfortunately, photos are not allowed, so you’ll have to visit Dublin and see this magnificent book for yourself.

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Trinity College

Book of Kells Museum

Continuing along the river, my next stop was the Temple Bar District, which is located on the south bank. It is a unique neighborhood in that it has preserved its medieval street pattern, with narrow cobblestone streets that are lined with galleries, boutiques and, of course, a famous pub or two.

Pub Famous

Just south of the Temple Bar District is Dublin Castle, the prestigious city center, which has been continuously occupied since it was built in 1204. Situated on 11 acres, the site includes two museums, two cafés, an international conference center, two gardens, government buildings and the State Apartments. With so much to see, I was not able to spend nearly as much time here as I wanted, thus giving me ample reason to return as soon as possible!

Bedford Tower of Dublin Castle

Religion is a huge part of this country’s history and culture, so there are numerous churches in Dublin, each one more striking than the last. In fact, the city has two medieval churches that have shared status as cathedrals of the Church of Ireland, an arrangement nearly unprecedented in history. Christ Church Cathedral is an impressive structure founded in 1030 by the Norse King Sitriuc Silkenbeard.

Christ Church Cathedral

St. Patrick’s Cathedral has been at the heart of Ireland’s history and culture since it achieved cathedral status in the early 13th century. The largest cathedral in the country, it has been visited by many of Irish history’s important dignitaries and is also the final resting place of Jonathan Swift.

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The Dublin sunset made an especially lovely backdrop for the city’s churches as well as its more modern facades and bustling streets. As evening approached, I decided it was time to stop for a pint of Guinness (or maybe two) and a classic Irish meal.

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Dating to 1198, The Brazen Head is Ireland’s oldest pub. Here you may sip a pint in the exact same spot as James Joyce, Jonathan Swift or Michael Collins. Guinness is not only a delicious beverage but also a fabulous cooking stock, as I discovered in a stew made with beef, mushrooms and onions in a Guinness and thyme sauce served in Yorkshire pudding. You can also enjoy a traditional Irish stew with chunks of lamb, vegetables and potatoes, as well as several other classic Irish dishes. And of course, everything comes with potatoes!

Pub Oldest Beef and Guinness Stew Traditional Irish Stew

After dinner and a pint, I headed to the famous Grafton Street to share the remainder of my time with the lively crowds. The city is an open book, and in only one day I was able to enjoy a fascinating look at the history and culture of Ireland. I hope you will be able to do so as well on one of Oceania Cruises’ upcoming sailings!

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2013 sailings to Dublin include:

2014 sailings to Dublin include:

*includes overnight stay in Dublin

June 6, 2013

ICONS OF THE ETERNAL CITY

Today both Nautica and Riviera are in Civitavecchia – the gateway to Rome. Traveling just an hour or so inland takes you to the Eternal City and all of its legends and wonders. Western society is rife with images that give us a notion of the grandeur of Rome, but until you visit, it’s difficult to truly conceive the immensity of the city.

Amidst the classical architecture and ancient relics sprout the trappings of modern man, from high-end fashion boutiques to souvenir shops selling aprons that make you resemble a gladiator. This mélange draws criticism from some visitors, but I actually feel a relative sense of harmony in the city considering its vastness. I enjoy grabbing a gelato and then rounding the corner onto a 17th century piazza that transports me back in time – or a forum more than two thousand years old that takes me back much further.

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I recently returned to Rome as Blogger-at-Large, and because I had already seen many of the historic monuments, I had a simpler plan this time: espresso, pasta, vino, gelato. But despite my intent to focus on culinary culture, and despite the rain that assured me this was a wise decision, I found myself drawn back to the city’s landmarks for another look. It just didn’t seem right to go to Rome without strolling by the Colosseum and tossing a coin in Trevi Fountain. This trip confirmed that, no matter how many times I visit Rome, I will always be awed by its icons, learn more of its history and discover new wonders.

On this trip I joined the Oceania Cruises excursion Rome on Your Own, which was great for those who have visited before. It provided transportation from the ship to the city and back, with the added benefit of an informative guide along the way who shared historical facts, helpful tips and a well-marked city map.

We were dropped off at the Piazza del Popolo, a large, impressive square that was a great starting point because from here Via del Corso led right into the heart of the city. Several of Rome’s most famous monuments are within blocks of this main street.

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The fact that I wanted to visit some landmarks did not deter me from my original plan, and I began the day with a delicious cappuccino. Buoyed with espresso, I set off for Trevi Fountain, passing by the famed Spanish Steps during the first of several rain showers that day. Like the horses pulling the carriages, I donned my rain gear and forged ahead. The famed Trevi Fountain had to be my first stop so that I didn’t miss the chance to toss in a coin to ensure that I would return to Rome again.

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Trevi Fountaoin and LPF Spanish Steps

After tossing the requisite coin and taking a few minutes to gaze at the majestic fountain, I headed for the Pantheon. Once a temple to the Roman gods and now a church dedicated to St. Mary and the Martyrs, it is the best preserved ancient building in Rome. While hardly visible from the front of the Pantheon, its dome is one of the most impressive features. To this day it is the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world. Its oculus is completely open, acting as the only source of natural light and also allowing in rain. It was remarkable to see the sunlight and showers falling from the heavens into the center of the church.

Pantheon panorama

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Pantheon Alter

Pantheon Inside

As I left the Pantheon, I was pleased to see it was time for lunch. On to the pasta and vino part of my plan! The Piazza della Rotunda in front of the Pantheon is surrounded by cafés, which one might assume are tourist traps because of their location. But while the prices may be a bit higher than a restaurant off the beaten path, the food I had there was delicious. And I was happy to pay a little extra for the view!

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I’ve eaten twice at the café on the southwest corner of the square, and I confess I had the lasagna both times. If you like your lasagna with béchamel sauce, then the lasagna in Toscana onboard the ship can compete with just about anything shoreside. But while I love a good béchamel, I sometimes prefer to forgo the milk and butter in favor of a hearty tomato sauce in its purest form, and in that case, the best I’ve ever had was at the café on Piazza della Rotunda. If you’re in the mood for a white sauce, try the gnocchi with arugula and prosciutto, which is divine!

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Having checked the pasta and vino off my list, I wandered for a bit and stumbled upon the lovely Piazza Navona with the Sant’Agnese in Agone church and the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi by Bernini, arguably Rome’s greatest achievement in the fountain genre.

Piazza Navona Sant'agnese in Agone church

Piazza Navona 2

I continued south again and arrived at a work that is modern architecture by Roman standards, the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II. This monument has met with some controversy since its inauguration in 1911 because an area of Capitoline Hill was destroyed to create it.

Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II

The Cordonata, a grand staircase designed by Michelangelo, led to the Piazza del Campidoglio atop Capitoline Hill, the smallest but most famous of the seven hills of Rome and the origin of the English word, “capitol.” Once the site of Rome’s holiest temples, the hill fell into ruin in the Middle Ages. Michelangelo was asked to redesign this ancient square in the 16th century, including the Palazzo Senatorio, which is now the city hall and is flanked by the impressive Capitoline museums.

Piazza del Campidoglio

At the base of the hill, I could see the Roman Forum, once the economic, political and religious center of Rome and home to some of the most ancient and renowned excavations in the city. Just beyond the Forum stood the Colosseum, the largest amphitheater in the world and the most recognized landmark in Rome. Coming from a country just a couple centuries old, I could hardly conceive of a structure that had been standing for a couple millennia, surviving both natural disasters and human plundering.

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Colosseum close

This iconic monument seemed an appropriate place to conclude my day and head back to meet the coach. I grabbed a gelato on the way and completed my culinary tour along with my historic one. I only hope that the legend of Trevi Fountain is indeed true, and that my coin will ensure that I return to this great city again!

May 30, 2013

THE LAUNCH OF A NEW SEASON OF CULINARY DISCOVERY TOURS CONTINUES

In this week’s earlier blog I shared some of the delightful Culinary Discovery Tours™ we just launched for the European season. From the colorful markets of Funchal to the delectable lunch at the famed Chateau Eza, the tours continue to meet with rave reviews from our guests.

Our Culinary Discovery Tour in charming Portofino, Italy, offered a delightful contrast to the elegance of Chateau Eza in France. After a scenic ferry ride, we were greeted in Rapallo by our friend Guido with a sampling of meats, cheeses, olive oils and wines from Liguria.

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Then we took a quick stroll through the market for basil, pine nuts, garlic and olive oil (guess what we are making?) before heading to Recco to spend the morning with the pasta master at Da O Vittorio. I never tire of watching this master and the grace and speed with which he rolls out his pasta, fills his ravioli and spins his focaccia dough.

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Lunch was fabulous and the pasta-making class was such fun for the guests. I get emails frequently with tales of our students mastering the art of making fresh pasta at home! One of the best ways to serve fresh pasta is with a basil pesto, and as we were in the Liguria region of Italy, where pesto originated, we of course had to make some with our purchases from the market.

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The next region of Italy on our itinerary was Tuscany. No trip to Tuscany would be complete without a visit to Torre a Cenaia for a pizza and focaccia-making class using their wood-fired oven amidst their vineyards and centuries-old Cyprus trees.

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After a stroll through the market in Livorno and a tasting of local ham, we headed off to the winery for a tour and enjoyed a lovely wine tasting while making our pizzas and placing them in the searingly hot outdoor ovens. Then after a carriage ride through the vineyard we returned for sweet wine and biscotti. I could hardly think of a better way to spend an afternoon in Tuscany!

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One of the Culinary Discovery Tours™ I was most excited to launch was the new one we are offering in Venice. It began with a private water taxi ride from the ship along the Grand Canal to the Rialto market. The trip was a real treat in itself!

The market was buzzing and alive with locals, tourists, vendors and, of course, our special Oceania Cruises foodies. After an hour wandering through the market looking at the beautiful scallops and fresh fish and magnificently displayed produce, we were off to the private home of our chef host.

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The magnificent villa was like something out of a Merchant Ivory movie set – so decadently Venetian and yet so welcoming at the same time.

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Our host was a former television chef on the Italian Food Network and conducted an engaging cooking demonstration of local Venetian dishes, such as fried zucchini blossoms and a seafood risotto.

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We sat for a candlelit lunch in her dining room and enjoyed another opportunity to relax with our guests and make new friends while savoring fabulous food and wine!

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Our last stop was the trendy new chocolatier, Vizio Virtù. What better way to finish this day than with spectacular chocolate delicacies?

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You are probably asking yourself the same question my mother asks me, “They pay you to do this job?!” I am excited for more adventures as the season continues with new culinary tours in Rhodes, Corfu, Istanbul and Sicily. You can also join me in the Baltic to launch our new season of Culinary Discovery Tours™ in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Tallinn, Riga, Oslo and Helsinki. If you can’t join me this summer, stay tuned for more culinary discoveries here on the blog!

Following are some of the Culinary Discovery Tours™ mentioned in the blog and the sailings on which they are offered – in case you wish to join us!

Portofino - Ligurian Cuisine & Pasta Making Class

Tuscany - Oven-Fired Focaccia, Biscotti & Pizza at Winery

Venice - Market Tour, Cooking & Chocolate Demos

Rhodes - Cooking Demo in Greek Family Restaurant & Lunch

 Corfu - Culinary Traditions & Greek Cooking

Istanbul - Fish and Spice Markets with Turkish Luncheon at Grand Bazaar 

Taormina, Sicily - Sensuous Sicily

Amsterdam - A Behind-the-Scenes Chef Tour & Lunch

Copenhagen - Food Market, Nordic Food Demo & Lunch

Tallinn - Fish Workshop, Winery Visit & Tallinn's Old Town

Riga - Central Market, Latvian Cooking Demo & Lunch

Oslo - Spectacular Mathallen Food Hall & Norwegian Pub Lunch

Helsinki - Visit to Food Market & Finnish Cooking Class