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Holiday Cruises for Foodies

| October 29, 2010

The 2010 Holiday Cruise recommendations for food lovers by our Cruise Culinary Editor: Janice Wald Henderson.

This is a report from our cruise culinary editor Janice Wald Henderson. Janice has been a longtime contributor to many magazines, including Bon Appétit Magazine and Brides. Her articles have appeared in Vogue, Food & Wine, Eating Well, Cooking Light and numerous other publications. Janice is also the Los Angeles editor of the Essential Restaurant Guide at epicurious.com. Janice Wald Henderson Cruise Culinary Editor

Eat, Drink and Be Merry Cruises

Cruising is always a foodfest, but holiday sails hit the proverbial home run. Come December, cruise ship kitchens shift into turbo gear. Chefs go hog-wild, transforming meals into lavish extravaganzas. Pastry chefs bake up a storm so every deck smells like Christmas cookies. And mixologists stir these sparkly cocktails that, well, put the jingle right into the bells. This wow-the-holiday-cruiser philosophy extends to most cruise ships, not just luxury liners. Here's where to celebrate the season at sea in gastronomic style.

CELEBRITY CRUISES

This top-rated premium cruise line features fancier fare than most ships in its category. Celebrity's fleet-wide Christmas feast includes specialties like brioche-crusted salmon Wellington (a riff on classic beef); roast turkey with traditional trimmings; English Christmas pudding (steamed with fruit and nuts), and French chocolate Yule log (cake rolled jellyroll-style, with chocolate frosting and garnishes to resemble a log) with candied orange.

On New Year's Eve, the celebration unfolds with champagne oysters and festive fare like sparkling wine-infused strawberry soup, chateaubriand with pink and green peppercorn crust and Mediterranean filet of sole. Delish desserts include dark-and-white chocolate mousse, and five-spiced caramel with diced apples sautéed in cider.

The poolside "countdown" party showcases fun finger foods like sliders (mini-burgers), crepes, hot and cold canapés, fruits and pastries, and a complimentary champagne toast at midnight.

On New Year's Day, Celebrity guests kick off 2011 with a no-holds-barred brunch of made-to-order omelets, smoked fish, miso-glazed halibut, lobster pot pie, roast duck, cornbread stuffing and � oh well, so much for resolutions � a dark and white chocolate fountain with terribly tempting condiments. (celebritycruises.com)

Celebrity Cuisine

CRYSTAL CRUISES

Holiday sails on Crystal Cruises are foodie fantasies come true. Edible decorations abound, making every public space smell like a spiced cookie. A giant gingerbread house on display outside the Crystal Dining Room makes even grown men swoon. Luckily, plates of assorted Christmas cookies surround the gingerbread house like guards at Buckingham Palace. (Good thing, or passengers would tear the gumdrops and roof "tiles.") Just standing at this table feels good; the buttery, powdered sugar-scent is intoxicating.

Crystal's food is always sophisticated but the holiday menus are amped-up yum. On Christmas Eve, the Crystal Dining Room is serving red king crabmeat salad on pineapple carpaccio, and curry aioli (mayonnaise); cream of pumpkin soup with fresh chestnuts and cr�me fraiche; and entrees like ginger and black pepper-crusted salmon with smoked onion puree, horseradish mashed potatoes and merlot red wine glaze. (Natch, roasted turkey is on the menu. With bourbon-pecan gravy, thank you very much. And did I mention the orange sage stuffing or sweet potato praline?) As for dessert, well, nothing feels more Christmasy than plum pudding with brandy sauce and vanilla ice cream.

Come New Year's Eve, the cuisine may hit the highest note. Poached lobster medallions on truffled green bean and artichoke salad; cappuccino of snow peas with duck confit and pumpernickel croutons; and pink-roasted veal rib eye with creamy morel sauce are menu showstoppers.

If you booked a Crystal cruise just before Christmas, you're still in for a treat. The Crystal Symphony booked impressive guest chefs for the 10-day roundtrip Los Angeles December 12th Mexican Riviera voyage. Culinary stars onboard include Yerika Munoz, a hot Mexico City chef from Astrid y Gaston; and Jeremiah Tower, one of the creators of modern California cuisine, who currently resides on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. (I've worked with Jeremiah Tower, and I promise he is one of the smartest, most articulate chefs you will meet.)

The chefs will lead classes and prepare dishes for passengers. They'll be working with guest Madeleine de Jean (the first female sommelier in the United States) and Julio Bermejo, the U.S. Ambassador of Tequila (hands up if you want that job). Come early; classroom seats will fill quickly for these spirited classes. (crystalcruises.com)

Crystal Cuisine

PAUL GAUGUIN CRUISES

As if sailing he South Pacific wasn't enough for the holidays; Paul Gauguin Cruises has booked star chef Stephan Pyles on The Gauguin for the December 18th sailing to Tahiti, Society Islands and Tuamotus. The peripatetic Pyles has created some 15 restaurants over the past 25 years and was the first person in the Southwest to win the James Beard Award (the foodie equivalent of an Oscar) for "Best Chef."

Pyles was a pioneer of modern southwest cooking; you may remember his first nationally acclaimed restaurants, Routh Street Café and Star Canyon. His current eponymous hotspot dishes up attention-getting courses like pressed pork shoulder with grilled pineapple empanada; and grass-fed Texas beef tenderloin with mole negro, poblano chile relleno and stuffed squash blossoms. (Mole negro is a Mexican sauce, made with chilies and unsweetened chocolate. Chile relleno is made with the bell pepper-shaped, mild poblano chile, stuffed with cheese, battered and fried.)

Pyles will lead cooking demonstrations and the signature restaurant L'Etoile will feature some of Chef Pyles' signature dishes throughout the sailing. (www.pgcruises.com)

Paul Gauguin Cruises cuisine

PRINCESS CRUISES

Princess dives deep into the Christmas spirit, from strolling carolers to wreaths, mistletoe and multiple Christmas trees. Even the ships' masts are decorated. Waiters wear Santa hats, serving Christmas dinner beyond bountiful, with roast turkey and goose, gingerbread mousse, mincemeat pie and Christmas cookies.

As on most cruise lines, Hanukkah gets its own special celebration with a rabbi onboard. (Hanukkah begins at sundown, December 1, and lasts for eight days.) Ships display menorahs and fresh flower arrangements in the Hanukkah colors of silver, white and blue. Kosher meals are available with advance request, and dining rooms will feature all the Jewish favorites, such as matzo ball soup, potato latkes (pancakes) and gefilte fish (ground, deboned fish, such as pike or whitefish, shaped into ovals and gently simmered in broth).

On New Year's Day, traditional bowl games will be shown in a lounge or on a giant "Movies under the Stars" screen on deck � popcorn, chips, mini-hot dogs and burgers are among the full buffet of munchies. (princess.com)

Princess Cruises cuisine

SILVERSEA CRUISES

Silversea guests are already spoiled. The fleet of six small, all-suite luxury ships provides passengers with many complimentary amenities, including gratuities and alcohol. There isn't much the company can add to its already-lavish frill-based sails.

Still, they try. "We go all out to create gourmet holiday menus," says Christian Sauleau, the company's executive vice-president of vessel operations. "Our menus are rich in tradition but also offer twists on seasonal favorites."

I see what he means. My sneak peek at the Christmas Day menu, featured fleet-wide, had me salivating. Dinner begins with foie gras (duck or goose liver) parfait, with truffle shavings and truffle oil. It's followed by lobster fricassee with pink peppercorns and seafood. Truffle consommé is next.

Mulled wine Christmas sorbet cleanses the palate before entrées like roasted turkey with cranberry dressing, or carved beef tenderloin with caramelized shallots. Fresh sea bream (small fish with flavorful white meat) with caviar veloute (silken cream sauce) should please nonconformists. Christmas pudding and Yule log with brandied cream are among the desserts.

New Year's Eve's menu gilds the lily. Guests will be treated to an amuse-bouche ("amuse the mouth" tidbit by the chef), followed by cold-poached lobster tail with truffled leek and cucumber salad. Quail consommé with shiitake mushrooms is next, before a refreshing pink champagne and raspberry sorbet.

Passengers choose between fresh filet of sea bass with "melted" leeks and champagne sauce; grilled center cut of beef tenderloin with oxtail ragout; and trilogy of duck with the breast, escalope of foie gras and confit of duck leg (cooked in its own fat) with orange sauce.

Should anyone have room for dessert, an intensely chocolate "indulgence" is the piece de resistance. Macaroons (French meringue cookies) and coffee should revive everyone for a wee-hour celebration. (silversea.com)

THE YACHTS OF SEABOURN

The six exclusive Seabourn ships face a serious challenge. The cruise line already includes all meals (including specialty restaurants), alcohol and gratuities in their price tag. This line spends megabucks on food, including the company jewel, malossol caviar (whenever, wherever, and as much as guests want). So just how does Seabourn raise their considerable stakes come Christmastime?

Turns out, in a low-key fashion, suiting Seabourn's subtly elegant style. Guests enjoying Christmas dinner will sup on starters like malossol caviar with potato-shallot cake and herb salad. Or sunchoke (Jerusalem artichoke) soup, with preserved lemon and potato croutons. Whole roast tom turkey with chestnut stuffing and giblet gravy, or whole-roasted goose with braised cabbage, should be the most popular entree. At dessert time, warm Christmas pudding with brandy cream sauce might make guests loosen the buckle on their Gucci belt a notch or two.

On New Year's Eve, the Chef's Gala Dinner is designed to dazzle. Here's the sort of menu Seabourn serves fleet-wide: The tasting menu begins with flamed cream of foie gras, with mango chutney, aged balsamic and brioche. Next comes white plum tomato soup with vanilla foam and basil croutons. Fresh Canadian lobster with lobster risotto follows. Green apple sorbet with fresh strawberries and champagne is the palate refresher. Atlantic turbot (beautiful, white-meat fish) accompanied by leek and mussels and vermouth sauce; or tournedo Rossini (beef filet on crouton, topped with seared foie gras) with truffle Madeira sauce are entrée choices. Pastries and liqueur-flavored truffles just sweeten the welcoming of 2011. (seabourn.com).

Seabourn cuisine

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