Before boarding Crystal Cruises' newest ship, the 68,000-ton Crystal Serenity, in New York, I felt like a kid anticipating a shopping spree in a toy store. Crystal Cruises has received some of the highest accolades from both travel and culinary critics. This was my first trans-Atlantic voyage, and I knew it would be a unique opportunity to enjoy extraordinary food and cultural experiences.
The excitement of dining in Serenity's two alternative gourmet restaurants -- the Nobu Matsuhisa-designed Silk Road and Piero Selvaggi's Prego -- was "button-popping!" As a New Yorker, I have endured the month-long wait for a dinner reservation at Nobu's flagship restaurant in Manhattan with no regrets. To secure a table in both the ship's restaurants, I made reservations as soon as I unpacked. You should do the same when sailing on Serenity.
In Prego, I enjoyed one of my favorite antipasti: Carpaccio di Manzo, thinly sliced raw beef tenderloin with a mustard sauce and capers. It was delicate and light, leaving ample room for my entree: a new style of tortellini filled with artichokes, tossed with a rock shrimp sauce and herbs. I also found a little room for dessert. I ordered Prego's Tiramisu, and it definitely perked me up. It was so light and delicious that again I wanted seconds (I practiced restraint). Prego also offers an extensive special tasting menu with suggested wine pairings.
Dining in Prego and the Silk Road impressed me on many levels. The style with which Serenity culinary team presents the foods of the world demonstrates Crystal Cruises' respect for the world's diversity, its individual cultures and unique culinary creations.
The "American Classic" is the newest of Crystal's "alfresco" afternoon dining events. Our empty plates were soon filled with the amazing tastes of American foods. Executive Chef Franz Weiss and his team understand that this is a country of immigrants, and the cuisine has grown from a melting pot of cultures. The "American Classic" buffet reflected the wonders of our diverse cultures. The menu included a Louisiana jambalaya and gumbos; a chunky, hearty chili from Texas; a California-style Cobb salad; and Navajo fry bread. The grill sizzled with baby back ribs, beef ribs and blackened fish. The desserts forced the strictest weight-watcher to throw out the calorie counter. We sampled an abundance of sweets, including New York cheesecake, lemon bars and much more. Of course, grandma's apple pie was there as well!
Later in the cruise, we sailed on to the food delights of the Mediterranean. On a brisk spring afternoon, Serenity offered the "Cuisine of the Sun." As I stepped on the Lido Deck and smelled the aromas from the grills, my taste buds recalled memorable vacations in Spain and Portugal. The expansive array of dishes reflected foods from a dozen countries bordering the Mediterranean. I was immediately drawn to the grills, and sampled Turkish marinated lamb skewers and my secret favorite, sardines grilled in grape leaves. The grilled seafood brochettes from Spain and a tasty tajine of chicken also got an appreciative taste. There were breads from France, Italian olive bread, sesame bread from Turkey and samples from many more home kitchens. The "Cuisine of the Sun" was truly special, and will take its place as one of my favorite Serenity food memories.I must mention Crystal's afternoon teas. The array of sweets and finger foods served at the Mozart Tea was spectacular! The staff dressed beautifully in brocade and lace costumes of old Vienna as they served some of the best tea-time treats you will ever experience. I met many repeat passengers during this voyage who have logged several Crystal cruises, and have plans to do more.
So that you can enjoy a Crystal Cruises dining experience at home, I'm passing along one of my favorite recipes, Chicken Jambalaya with Andouille Sausage and Clams, from the Crystal Cruises Cookbook. While there are countless jambalaya recipes, this one is special. Try it, let your imagination fly and make it your own.
Chicken Jambalaya with Andouille Sausage and Clams
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a heavy ovenproof casserole or cast-iron skillet over medium heat, heat the fat or oil and saute the chicken until browned on both sides. Using tongs, transfer the chicken to a plate. In the same pan, saute the Tasso and Andouilles until browned, stirring frequently. Add the onions, shallots, garlic, celery, bell peppers and leeks, and sauté, stirring frequently for about 5 minutes or until the onions and shallots are translucent. Return the chicken to the pan. Raise the heat to high and cook for 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and add the Cajun spices, salt and pepper to taste. Add the tomatoes and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the tomato sauce and stocks and bring to a boil. Add the green onions and cook for 3 minutes. Add the rice. Stir well and remove from heat.
Cover the pan with a lid or aluminum foil. Place the pan in the oven and cook for 25-30 minutes or until the rice is tender.
Meanwhile, in a stock pot, bring the white wine to a simmer over medium heat. Add the clams and cook about 3 minutes or until the clams have opened. Discard any that do not open. Set aside and keep warm.
Remove the jambalaya from the oven and stir in the clam mixture, combining well. Add the cilantro. Serve in shallow bowls or bring the casserole or skillet to the table and serve family style.
Be sure to have fun!
(For additional information on Crystal Cruises, visit http://www.crystalcruises.com/; to read CruiseMates' review of Crystal Serenity, click http://www.cruisemates.com/articles/reviews/crystal/serenity.cfm )