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Here are more food preparation and ingredients tips I learned on Holland American’s Westerdam on our August cruise to Alaska. It was so much fun learning about cooking from some great chefs, while experiencing all the wonders of Alaska and cruising.

Here’s a way to analyze the quality of  honey, olive oil, and maple syrup. Take a flat plate, pour a couple of tablespoons onto the plate. Take your index finger and make a channel through the middle of the liquid. Watch how quickly the liquid flows back together. The more quickly, the lesser the quality of the liquid, whether honey, olive oil or maple syrup. This tip from Chef Phillip from the Westerdam, Holland America cruise line.

Here are some money saving tips regarding olive oil. In cooking with olive oil,  it is not necessary to use your precious, expensive Extra Virgin Olive Oil for sautéing or frying. A lesser oil will do just fine. Save your EVOO for pesto and salads. To further economize when cooking with olive oil, use a mixture of olive oil and canola oil for your frying and sautéing.  The proportions should be 1 part olive oil to 4 parts canola. The reasons behind this are that the olive oil can be too strong a taste in some cases, and also you can heat the oil mixture to a higher heat without smoking than what would be possible with olive oil alone. A final olive oil tip: buy it in a can, not a glass or plastic bottle for extended shelf life.

Now for a couple of tips concerning preparation of fish: one, don’t pepper salmon before frying or sautéing. Use only a little salt. The same advice holds for halibut. Put pepper on after cooking. The surprising reason is that pepper burns easily.

Second, when cooking fish, dry it first so you don’t wind up “poaching” the fish.

Third, you don’t have to marinate fish overnight because there is no connective tissue that has to be broken down by the marinade.

The final ingredients tip I got was that in making a recipe that calls for bread crumbs, consider whether it would be advantageous for the bread crumbs to absorb a maximum amount of liquid. If so, choose Panko bread crumbs: They are dried so that they soak up more of the liquid.

It was fun learning these tidbits. It made me realize that although I used to consider myself a good cook, my cooking is really pedestrian. That being said, I still love to cook for my family and they still appreciate my efforts. That’s what really counts.

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On our recent cruise to Alaska on Holland America’s Westerdam, I was able to gather many good entertaining, floral design, and food preparation tips. We got to experience a tour of the galley, a demo on making chocolate martinis, a talk on chocolate, a talk on flower arranging, and a cooking class with one of the head chef’s on board.

I’m pondering if there would be a way to deduct some of the cost of the cruise as a business expense since I learned so much that will be useful, either in things I can share with my guests at my Entertaining At Home parties, or in blog posts!  Probably not!

First of all, let me highly recommend Holland America as a cruise line choice if you do enjoy cooking or entertaining. They have a whole stage dedicated to their Culinary Arts Center. Recipes we got to observe being prepared were provided to us on nice recipe cards. When we did the cooking class, we each got an apron bearing the ship’s logo and name of the Culinary Arts Center. And to top it all off, anything we got to see demonstrated, we got to eat! The highlight of that was from the cooking class, where we were served Grilled Prawn Bruschetta with Primavera Salsa, Salmon with Lemon Glaze and Rosemary Crumbs, and Grand Marnier Chocolate Volcano Cake!

So to begin, I’ll share with you the easiest tip of all: making a chocolate martini. The trick to this is taking chocolate syrup, pouring a tablespoon or so into the bottom of a martini glass, and then taking a wooden stick and dragging some of the syrup up the side of the glass in a spoke-like fashion. To make it more decorative, take the stick and make circles around the glass, dragging the stick through the spokes of the chocolate that have been pulled up the sides of the glass. This will make a spider-web design.

That’s all there is to it. Mix your favorite martini drink and strain it into the chocolate decorated glass. Here are a couple of the martini recipes they gave us. Thanks to Holland America for sharing these recipes.

Lightning Fast Chocolate Martini

3 oz Premium Vodka

1.5 oz. Chocolate Liqueur or Crème de Cacao

Double Chocolate Chocolate Martini

3 oz. Premium Vodka

1.5 oz. Chocolate Liqueur or Crème de Cacao

2 tsp. Chocolate Syrup

Chocolate Orange Martini

3 oz. Premium Vodka

2.5 oz. Chocolate Liqueur or Crème de Cacao

1 oz. Grand Marnier

Chocolate Hazelnut Martini

3 oz. Premium Vodka

2.5 oz. Chocolate Liqueur or Crème de  Cacao

1 oz. Frangelico Hazelnut Liqueur

Chocolate Espresso Martini

0.5 oz. Cold Espresso

2.5 oz. Premium Vodka

1.5 oz. Kahlua or Sabrosa coffee liqueur

1.5 oz. chocolate liqueur or Crème de Cacao.

For all of these recipes, pour all listed ingredients into a cocktail shaker packed with ice. Shake vigorously for 8-10 seconds. Strain into an ice chilled martini glass and enjoy.

Since I’m a tea-totaller, I’m looking for suggestions as to how to use this  presentation idea with a non-alcoholic drink. Any ideas? Let me know in a comment below. Thanks!

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