Cruisin’ with the Crew or Bermuda Bound

Well, we’re a month (or so) into recruiting cruisers for our wine and culinary adventure on the high seas and things look very good.   If you haven’t yet booked a cabin, if you’re on the fence, let me tell you about some of the really cool aspects of the trip and tip you in the direction of joining us.

If you’re unfamiliar, here’s our plan along with some added details.

Cruisin' for a Bermusin'

Cruisin' for a Bermusin'

Check into your cabin on the 9th of May aboard Holland America Lines’ ms Veendam in NYC (http://www.hollandamerica.com/cruise-vacation-onboard/Veendam) and you’ll find two bottles of wine waiting for you, a little token of our appreciation.  We then sail away and drop anchor a day and a half later in St. George’s, Bermuda. While we’re underway, Kimberly and Mike will be conducting a wine tasting that will be just for our little group. We’ll be using our own wine and, rest assured, we’ll be pouring more generously than the ABC would allow if we were here in the store.  Mike (that’s me!) will also be giving a cooking demo for our group in the ship’s Culinary Arts Center, a demonstration kitchen designed by the folks at Food and Wine magazine.

When you’re not occupied with Wine gourmet activities, the ship offers loads of things to fill up your time.  Let me count the ways.  To start, there’s one casino, two pools, three nightclubs, and four restaurants (not counting the coffeehouse and poolside pizza joint).  You’ll also find a gym, a spa and on-board demos and workshops of various stripes. If the kids are along, there’s Club HAL (for the extra young’uns) and two teen clubs for hangin’ out away from the ‘rents and little brothers and sisters.
. . Did I mention that there’s a casino?

We recently learned that the ship has been through a refurbishment this year.  As a result, all the staterooms have been updated; new linens, color schemes and carpeting.  They’ve also been able to create  an additional cabin “level” that may be of interest.  All HAL ships have a teak deck that runs the perimeter of the ship, unbroken, at the main level.  I’m sure that I’ll be found walking it over and over, talking to myself, as I analyze what just happened to me in the casino.
Anyway, I bring up the teak promenade for this reason:  There is a new class of cabin (just added) called, “Lanai”.  It falls between the Ocean View and the Verandah style cabins and is differentiated by having a sliding glass door that directly accesses the promenade.  Each Lanai cabin is also given a pair of chaise lounges that flank the door and are reserved for the exclusive use of the passengers in that cabin.

The Promenade, taken on an Alaskan cruise, before the addition of the Lanai cabins.

The Promenade, taken on an Alaskan cruise, before the addition of the Lanai cabins.

It is, as you might expect, priced between the cost of the Ocean View cabin and the Verandah model.  Regardless of which cabin you select, there’ll be two bottles of wine (from us), fresh fruit every morning, and European pillow-top mattresses for your slumbering.

. . . . I suspect I’ll feel so pampered that it will be all I can do to stop myself from ringing the purser to have him come kick the stool out from under me.
. . . you know, after the casino.

So here’s where it gets really cool. The Veendam, unlike many cruise ships, is small enough to pull right into the downtown mooring areas in Bermuda.  It will not be necessary, as it is for larger ships, to moor across island and bus our way into town. The Veendam will be downtown, dockside and will leave open all of its amenities,  – all restaurants, the casino (a casino!), etc. for its stay in port.  It will literally be like having a four-star downtown hotel.  We’re also told that, nightly, the street in front of the ship is closed to traffic for a street party.

Ain't it just the ginchiest? - St. Georges, Bermuda (photo by John Mason)

Ain't it just the ginchiest? - St. Georges, Bermuda (photo by John Mason)

Take two days to explore Bermuda’s original capitol, St. George’s.  It looks quaint, cozy, and clean from all the brochures – kind of like Disney but without the costumes, nametags and lists of showtimes.  The ship will weigh anchor after about two days and steam around to the other side of the island to moor dockside (again) in Hamilton, Bermuda’s current capitol.

Is that a banana in your hand or are ya just happy to see Hamilton?

Is that a banana in your hand or are ya just happy to see Hamilton?

If you have something going on – don’t worry about.  You can catch a cab the ten miles or so it is between ports. Then we have another two days in Hamilton before pulling out for the return voyage to NYC.

On the way back we’ll have another wine tasting and (finally) a wine taster’s lunch, just for us – in the Pinnacle Grill.  The Pinnacle Grill is the finest fine-dining establishment aboard.

Who wouldn't pine for the Pinnacle?

Who wouldn't pine for the Pinnacle?

While you can eat anywhere else aboard ship at no additional cost, to eat at the Pinnacle takes an additional $25/person/meal – but don’t you worry about it.  We’ve included the cost of the luncheon in the whole cost of the trip.

Please join us here, in the store, on Tuesday, Oct. 27 from 4:30 to 7pm for a special (and free!) cruise-related wine tasting.  We’ll have Larry Garnett of Holland America Lines and Tom Rush of Travel Lovers in Lynchburg here to answer any and all of your cruise related questions. So work up some good ones.  [ex.  Can we water ski behind the ship?  What if I’m allergic to bananas and crabs?  Will you be screening “Titanic” while we’re underway?]
You get the idea.

Here’re some nifty Ship Facts:

  • Gross Tonnage: 55,758grt (One registered ton equals 100 cubic feet)
  • Length: 720 feet
  • Beam: 101 feet
  • Maximum speed: 22 knots (maximum)
  • Ship’s Registry: The Netherlands
  • Passenger capacity: 1,350
  • Crew: 557
  • Passenger to Crew Ratio:  2.4:1
  • Dedicated: January, 1996 by actress Debbie Reynolds
  • Refurbished, February 2009
    Recovering from a wine tasting.  That's the ms Veendam in the background.

    Recovering from a wine tasting. That's the ms Veendam in the background.

    The Veendam's Casino.   - Did I mention that there's a casino?

    The Veendam's Casino. - Did I mention that there's a casino?

    The Retreat on the aft Navigation Deck.    WHERE'S MY MIMOSA!

    The Retreat on the aft Navigation Deck. WHERE'S MY MIMOSA!

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    Published in: on October 21, 2009 at 7:02 pm  Comments (1)  

    CHILI POLO BLANC du WINE GOURMET (OK, OK – it’s just Wine Gourmet’s White Chicken Chili)

    This is food with the comfort quotient of a pillow-top mattress and 800 thread-count sheets.

    This is food with the comfort quotient of a pillow-top mattress and 800 thread-count sheets.

    Making a dish like this isn’t difficult but doing it takes a bit of a zen-like patience.  Because many of the components are cooked separately and then joined, at the right time and in the right condition,  – it’s really a two-day affair.
    I’ve broken the steps into day one and day two.

    The first day, you need to do five things:
    1.) Cook the chicken and remove the meat
    2.) Make chicken stock
    3.) Make a roux
    5.) Roast your garlic
    4.) Soak your beans

    DAY 1

    Ingredients:
    A chicken, 4-5lbs will do
    1 Medium-large onion
    1 Medium-large carrot
    1 Stalk of celery
    1 Medium-large head of garlic
    1 lb. of Dry white beans
    1 tsp. Whole black peppercorn
    4 oz. Unsalted butter
    4 oz. All-pupose flour
    ~4 Tbs. Olive oil
    Kosher salt
    Freshly-ground black pepper

    Cook Your Chicken
    Pre-heat the oven to 375 deg.
    Thoroughly rinse the chicken, inside and out, and pat dry with a paper towel (or two).
    Place the chicken, breast up on a wire rack with a drip pan underneath and truss it up with some string to keep the wings and legs in tight with the body.  It will cook more evenly this way.  Drizzle the top of the chicken with olive oil and then generously salt and pepper both inside the cavity and the outside.  Roast for about 90 minutes or until the juices run clear when the skin is pierced by a knife tip. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

    After the chicken has cooled enough to not burn you as you’re handling it, remove the meat by hand. Cover the meat with plastic wrap and set it in the fridge until needed the next day.  Take the skin and fatty pieces and chop them up for the dogs.
    The picked carcass will be needed to make stock.

    Make the Chicken Stock
    (There are many variations but the stock I describe will work very well for this dish and many others.)
    Rough chop the onions, celery, and carrot.  This should produce about 2 Cups of onion along with 1 Cup each celery and carrot.
    (The ratio of 2:1:1 makes this what the French call, mirepoix.  Mirepoix is important for building layers of flavor.  You will, in fact, create and use a mirepoix twice in this recipe.)
    Chop the chicken carcass up into four or five pieces.
    Get a large stock pot (8 qt. or larger) very hot, add a few tablespoons of olive oil and wait for the oil to “shimmer”.  Add the chicken pieces to the hot oil and saute them until browned. Remove the large pieces and set them aside for a few minutes.  Add the onions, celery and carrots to the pot and saute them for a few minutes, allowing them to pick up some color. Put the browned carcass pieces back in the pot along with about a teaspoon of whole black peppercorns.  Add about a gallon of water.
    You should hear a richly satisfying hiss and bubble as the liquid hits the bottom of the pot.  Scrape the bottom  of the pot to free up all the tasty bits that have stuck to the bottom.
    Now bring the stock to a boil and, as soon as it gets there, turn the heat way down so that the pot settles into a gentle simmer.  Gentle is the key here.  Stuff should bubble lazily to the surface and then listlessly drift back down.  Simmering it hard will make the resulting stock cloudy and slightly bitter.
    Simmer the pot for 2-3 hours, remove from heat and allow to cool. Separate the chunky bits from the liquid.  You’ve now made your stock.  Chuck the chunky and save the liquid in the ‘fridge.

    Roast the garlic.
    Pre-heat the oven to 375 deg.
    Cut-off the tip top of the garlic bulb exposing the tops of some of the cloves.  Sit the garlic top-up in any oven-proof container.  (I use a small glass bowl, but you could use a metal measuring cup or something similar.  It just needs to hold the garlic upright.)  Drizzle the exposed garlic top generously with olive oil and pop it in the oven for about an hour.
    Remove the garlic and let it cool.  When cool enough to handle, squeeze the head from the bottom and the soft, (now) sweet cloves will push out like toothpaste from the tube.
    Take some of the chicken stock liquid you prepared, about a 1/4 cup will be fine, and put it, along with the roasted garlic, into a blender.
    As Devo would have you do,  – whip it good.  (Actually, a few quick pulses will work just fine.)  Take the resulting liquid (a kind of garlic sauce) and save it in the ‘fridge til tomorrow.

    Make the Roux
    Roux (pronounced like Kanga’s kid) is a blend of cooked fat and flour that’s used as a thickening agent.  Though any fat would actually work, the fat most commonly used is butter and that’s what we’ll employ here.
    Melt a stick (4 oz.) of unsalted butter in a small pan until bubbling.  Add 4 oz. of all-purpose flour and blend together with a whisk or spatula.  Once the flour and butter have combined into a cohesive mixture, cook for 2-3 more minutes to get rid of any raw flour taste.

    Soak your Beans
    Put the dry beans in a large bowl, cover them with water to about an inch deep. Let them sit for a few minutes stirring them occasionally, then dump the water.  Do this several times and then, after submerging them under an inch of water again, let them soak overnight.

    DAY 2
    Ingredients:
    1 Medium-large onion, diced
    1 Medium-large carrot, skinned and cut into bite-sized pieces
    1 Stalk of celery, again, bite-sized pieces
    1/2 lb. Andouille Sausage, sliced into coins
    Chicken meat (from yesterday’s prep), bite-sized pieces
    Chicken stock
    1 Cup Dry white wine
    Roux
    1/3 Cup Fresh Parsley, chopped fine
    1 Tbsp Fresh Rosemary, chopped fine
    2 Tbsp Olive Oil
    Salt & pepper, to taste
    Hot sauce, to taste

    Get your stock pot on the burner and fire it up.  Let it heat for a couple of minutes and then add the olive oil and wait for the shimmer.  Add the sausage and push it around, getting it brown all over.

    Adding the stock to a 5 gal. batch

    Adding the stock to a 5 gal. batch

    Remove the sausage pieces and set them aside.  You’ll re-add them later.
    Add the mirepoix (onions, celery, and carrots) and rosemary to the pot and saute for 5-6 minutes, moving it around and picking up some color.  Salt and pepper the mirepoix.  Add the soaked beans, the wine and the chicken stock.  Bring the liquid, beans, and mirepoix to a boil and then reduce to a gentle simmer.
    Now, go put in a DVD.  The chili needs about two hours of simmer to get the beans tender.  (You will need to return to your pot several times to skim the foam that forms on top.  I use a simple strainer that I drag through the foam. If you scoop up some of the beans/mirepoix with the foam, just rinse those pieces off under the tap and return them to the pot.)

    When the end credits are rolling, return to the kitchen.
    Fish a bean out of the pot with a spoon and taste it to check tenderness.  If it’s still a bit stiff, continue simmering.  But, if you find it to be acceptably soft, it’s now time to add your roux.  The roux, after a night in the fridge, will be about the consistency of play-doh.  With a knife, slice off about 1/4 and cut that into smaller pieces.  Add them to the still simmering liquid.  Stir the pot to melt and incorporate the roux.  The liquid will slowly thicken as a result.  If the chili  doesn’t get to the right consistency in 2-3 minutes, add some more until you get there.  Save whatever you don’t use to thicken other stuff.  The roux will keep up to several months in the ‘fridge as long as it’s wrapped.

    You’re galloping toward the finish line at this point.
    Add the roasted garlic sauce, chopped chicken meat, the sausage, and the parsley and stir it up (little darling).
    Finally, adjust the flavor to your liking with salt and hot sauce.

    This is a very flexible dish and will tolerate a lot of adjustment.  If you want to add freshly chopped peppers, or lemon zest/juice, or omit rosemary, or substitute pork – go ahead.

    Now for wine.

    As for a wine, light to medium-bodied red with some zing is just what’s called for.  I would strongly recommend a Grenache (Garnacha, if it’s from Spain) such as our Las Rocas Vinas Viejas (Old Vine), @ $18.99/btl. .  It has flavors of black raspberry, black cherry, and black pepper (a bunch of black things) along with enough body to stand-up to the chili but not so much body it overwhelms it.

    Like Billy D. Williams, it's dark and smooth.

    Like Billy D. Williams, it's dark and smooth.

    and again.

    Another solid recommendation would be a  Cotes du Rhone, such as the Domaine Grand Veneur 2007 @ $12.99/btl.  It’s a dark ruby with flavors of  mushroom, dry leaf, sour cherry, licorice and pepper.  It’s amazingly complex for a wine of its price and is an earthy match for the chili.

    This thing's more complex than a Dan Brown novel.

    This thing's more complex than a Dan Brown novel.

    Published in: on October 13, 2009 at 11:08 pm  Comments (1)  
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