Tag Archives: days at sea

Maasdam’s Hands-On Cooking Class

Part 2—Chef Joseph makes his class more fun than recess

Last night the ship rocked and rolled like a 60’s band without any music, unless you count the water in the pipes sloshing back and forth. But despite the waves, I’m on my way up to deck 7 for a hands-on cooking class with Chef Joseph Caputo.

I enjoyed the free cooking demonstration with the chicken soup so much I think this $29 hands-on cooking class will be a lot of fun. There are 13 of us gathered in the Culinary Arts Center as Chef Joseph explains what we’ll be making.

Linda O"Keefe              Linda O"Keefe
Chef Joseph                                 Explaining the crepe pan

He says, “This is my Grandmother Angela’s manicotti recipe. I’ve been making it since I was 7. It is a tradition for my Italian family to have manicotti for celebrations such as Christmas, Thanksgiving and birthdays. My grandmother would get up before dawn and start making the tomato sauce, the crepes and the filling. Since the crepes aren’t very big, it was easy to eat 5 or 6.”

Linda O"Keefe        Linda O"Keefe
Blanched, peeled plum tomatoes                                              Fresh eggs

Chef Joseph quickly organizes us into 4 groups. Assignments are handed out. My group begins seeding tomatoes as others start cracking eggs and whisking in flour and milk. Another group is busy mixing the cheese filling.

Chef Joseph watches us closely and offers advice to make sure everything goes well. Before long, it’s time to start cooking the crepes. This is the part I’m nervous about. Chef recommends using an electric skillet set at 250 degrees for the crepes. He says that’s the best way to maintain an even temperature.

Linda O"Keefe              Linda O"Keefe
Bad crepe, good crepe                Pouring the crepe mix

My turn comes. I slowly pour in about 2 tablespoons of the mixture and flatten it out with the back of a spoon. In a little over a minute, the  thin crepe is ready to be turned and is done. Now I wonder about all the fun things I can make with this recipe.

Unfortunately, on the Maasdam the Culinary Arts Center stage is in the same room  (and behind the screen) of the ship’s movie theater. Things start to get a little crazy when we realize our time is almost up and we’re not done. People are coming in to watch the movie and the screen isn’t down and the the curtain hasn’t been drawn to hide the kitchen from the audience. Our group isn’t ready for their prime time.

Linda O"Keefe               Linda O"Keefe
Stirring the sauce                           Almost ready

The sauce is done but we’re still cooking crepes. When the crepes are done and laid out on the work stations, it’s time to stuff them. I put the filling at one end and from there I begin rolling, ending with the seam side down. Another team member spoons sauce into  a pan  and I place the filled crepes into the sauce. Someone else sprinkles cheese on the top. My crepes are ready for the oven at 350 for about 30 minutes.

Linda O"Keefe      Linda O"Keefe
Mixing the cheese filling                     I did these all by myself

Linda O"Keefe      Linda O"Keefe
Filling and rolling takes a while              Time to start on the salad

Now we tackle the salad dressing. The greens are combined with roasted walnuts, blue cheese, dried cranberries and a light citrus vinaigrette dressing. Chef Joseph warns, “The salad should be dressed not drowned!”

This is his own special dressing that he is sharing with us. Since he’s now bottling it for sale, I won’t give away any secrets. But it is delicious.

Linda O"Keefe                    Linda O"Keefe
 Chef Das takes a break                      Chop, chop, chop!

Maasdam’s Pinnacle Grill Chef Das stops by to join the fun. He gives pointers to several  about how to cut properly and not add extra protein to the salad.

I take pictures, roll crepes, laugh, drink wine and try to take notes. I find out I need a silicon spatula and a ceramic knife to make life in the kitchen easier. This session also helped me realize I will be back in my home kitchen in a few days. I hope my end result there will be as magnificent as this cooking session.

Linda O"Keefe              Linda O"Keefe
Chef Das and Chef Joseph       Chef Joseph serves up the goods       

  by Linda O’Keefe         

(I also look forward to the magnificent results, Tim O’Keefe)    

Maasdam’s Guest Chef Joseph F. Caputo

This is part 1 of 2

Today I’m attending a cooking demonstration with the Maasdam’s guest Chef Joseph F. Caputo who will prepare Coconut Chicken Soup. I’m eager to learn how.  Chef Caputo is part of Holland America’s regular program of bringing aboard chefs who not only are outstanding in their kitchens but also in their teaching skills.  

When I arrive at the Culinary Arts Center, I find all the ingredients for the soup are divided and ready.  The chicken stock is even in the pot, ready awaiting the ingredients. 

                 Maasdam Cruise       Maasdam Cruise
                              Ready to start                                      Tomatoes fresh and ripe

The first thing Chef Joseph explains is how important the stock is to any soup. He says you must cook it 4 or 5 hours but never let it come to a boil. In this case, after the chicken is removed, the stock must be strained several times. Or, to skip this entire first step you can use organic pre-packaged stock. Like me.

The recipe for this soup calls for a quart of stock, a 28 ounce can of plum tomatoes, unsweetened coconut milk, a rib of celery cut into 2 pieces and an onion studded with cloves. Um, I find that very interesting. Cloves.

To my surprise, Chef Joseph says the onions, celery and tomatoes are added to the finished stock, boiled for 20 minutes, then remove the onion and celery. He suggests using an immersion blender or a counter top blender to puree the tomatoes but to leave some flecks for color.

Joseph tells us he owns and operates Zuppa del Giorno, il restorante del pranzo which means “soup of the day” and Catering by Joseph LTD in his hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania. Explaining how he was inspired by the cooking of his mother and grandmother and that culinary success started early in his life, Joseph uses the kitchen as a stage while preparing the soup. 

              ‘    LindaOKeefe_457      Maasdam Cruise
                       Chef Joseph preparing soup                           Telling us about his career

No wonder he did so well. Graduating with a degree in Communications and later earning a Master’s degree in Theatre, Joseph spent time in New York City pursuing a professional acting career while working at restaurants there.

His expertise gained from the theatre, combined with an easy going nature, make watching him cook a pleasure. Where I would be clunking around,  he seems to glide through the recipe like a dancer.

He says that one time during his acting days while catering a private party, he suddenly realized cooking was his true passion.  He changed direction first by becoming a personal chef. To enhance his skills, he attended the Culinary Institute of America. Before turning 50, he was the owner of two successful businesses: Both a catering operation and a restaurant.

In watching Chef Joseph teach our class, he switches gears as smoothly as a Rolls Royce. As he adds the chicken to the recipe,  he says the best way to prepare the chicken is to roast it for 30 minutes in an oven preheated to 425 so the chicken will remain moist and not shred up. After placing everything in the stock pot, he emphasizes how the mixture should be heated thoroughly but never boiled. 

My mouth is watering when tiny cups of the finished soup are handed out. My taste buds are not disappointed. The velvety texture of the soup is filled with hints of curry, clove and coconut, all in a rich creamy tomato base. YUM!

                               Maasdam Cruise         Maasdam Cruise Maasdam Cruise
                                        Soup’s on!                        Caribbean comfort food

As we sip the soup with the little spoons, Joe tells a story about one of his experiences, which also is quite revealing about how a true chef thinks differently than the rest of us.

“One day I was in a restaurant where they were serving grilled cheese sandwiches. That started me thinking how I could use grilled cheese in a soup. So I made a tomato cream soup, then grilled the cheese sandwiches and cut them into small pieces. Using the grilled cheese tidbits as croutons, I called it “Childhood in a Bowl.”  He says people love it!

Watching Chef Joseph’s enthusiasm and listening to his stories, I wonder if Chef Joseph isn’t reliving fond childhood memories of his family every time he prepares soup. Both here in this small quantity and back home (as much as 120 gallons a day).

Whatever the reason, he certainly loves every minute doing it.

In part 2, I cook with Chef Joseph.

   By Linda O’Keefe

Holland America’s Free Digital Workshops

  

microsoft classroom-3

Thank them for the increased use of photos in most recent blogs

 While many cruise lines offer computer classes, Holland America operates at a higher level. By partnering with Microsoft Windows, HAL is the first to offer a free digital program at sea. Other cruise lines usually charge $20 a session, and their classrooms and instructors are of varying quality.

The workshops are available on all HAL ships. On the Maasdam, which is a typical setup, our PC lab is connected to a wireless network and outfitted with 16 new 17-inch Sony laptops with the latest Windows software . Frank Barcelona, the “techspert” during my 35-day cruise, has been well-trained by Microsoft.

Frank not only knows the programs inside out, he is current on the latest developments throughout much of the digital world. A patient and methodical teacher, Frank has turned my days-at-sea into an unexpectedly enriching and productive time.He focuses on the practical applications of Microsoft Live for tweaking, storing and sharing photos of our trip, which keeps his 20-seat classroom packed and sometimes has standing
passengers lining the sides of the room

.microsoft classroom-1    microsoft classroom-7
Thanks to Frank, I discover the wonders of Microsoft Live Writer, a program intended specifically for blog posts. Now my layout as well as writing are done offline, to be uploaded into my normal blog post templates whenever I go online. This has made the process easier and faster. Having to paste photos into the template using the ship’s sometimes slow Internet speed is incredibly frustrating and sometimes doesn’t work. With Live Writer, the page is complete before I ever sign on.  Microsoft Live is available for free download at microsoft.com.

This class also is going to make life easier when we return home. I’ve hesitated to upgrade to Windows 7 after fighting with the maddening quirks of Vista. After a few days, I realize I’m using Windows 7, which seems as user friendly as XP.  Moreover, Frank says that with some versions of Windows 7 you can even go into XP mode to work with particular programs.

The Microsoft Windows classes are another way HAL distinguishes itself, providing useful activities on either days-at-sea or in port, since different classes are offered four to six times a day, with an hour set aside for Frank’s help on our projects. The schedule makes Frank one of the busiest people on the Maasdam.

microsoft classroom-2
Large flat screen monitors make it easy to follow course instructions

What the classes cover:
Offered from morning until early evening. the classes last for an hour followed by a 60-minute break.

  • Edit your cruise photos
  • Turn your cruise photos and videos into a slide show
  • Getting your photos out of the camera and into the computer
  • Advanced editing of your cruise photos
  • Sharing your cruise photos via email and the Internet
  • PC safety and maintenance
  • Learn fun ways of staying connected with instant messaging and webcams
  • Learn the basics of staying connected through social networking
  • Understanding the basics of your digital camera
  • Learn what PC is right for your lifestyle and how to find the best offers
  • See how Windows 7 can simplify your PC and your life

HAL’s Digital Classroom program sure beats the belly flop contests offered on some other cruise lines.