Story and Photography by Lori Ross
At the end of a wonderful day on the water, as the sun sinks down behind the horizon, and the sky presents a stunning light show of colors around your boat, there’s nothing more pleasant than sharing the moment, as well as hors d’oeuvres and drinks, with cruising friends. It was the Scandinavians who started the custom of serving a drink as an appetizer before dinner, along with an assortment of delicious dishes. By the 19th century, France adopted the custom, naming the course hors d’oeuvres, meaning "outside the chef's principal work." Other cultures have a long tradition of savory mouthfuls served with cocktails, wine or soft drinks before a meal, such as Italian antipasti and a glass of wine, Danish Smørrebrød and Aquavit, Spanish tapas with sherry, Greek meze with ouzo, Russian zazuski with vodka, and Asian dim sum, to name a few. Indeed, today an entire new genre of cooking has emerged that promotes making whole meals out of a variety of small dishes -- something we cruisers already love to do.
My love of entertaining came from my parents, who enjoyed producing lavish hors d’oeuvres and abundant meals. I remember my dad once grilling 40 pounds of spare ribs as an appetizer for only five guests! As a general rule, though, caterers recommend three or four hors d’oeuvres per person before dinner, and 8 to 12 appetizers for a cocktail party without dinner. Being my father’s daughter, I like to err on the side of more rather than less food, and try to present hors d’oeuvres that balance and complement one another. According to food researchers, our perception of flavor is an interaction of aroma, textures, colors, and taste; aroma alone can be responsible for as much as 90 percent of our perception of food’s flavor. Flavor is impacted by psychological factors and expectations; for instance, food isn’t nearly as appealing when you’re sick, angry or tired. So, good food and flavor is about quality of ingredients, attractive presentation, complementary textures and flavors, and atmosphere.
When Jim and I are planning a cruise to a place we’ve never visited, I love to browse through cookbooks and websites for inspiration and ideas (my favorites include Martha Stewart’s exhaustive to me on appetizers, www.MarthaStewart.com; www.epicurious.com; and www.saveur.com). On our first cruise to the Abacos, I found out that delicious local specialties such as hot sauces, fresh baked Bahamas bread and fresh conch were available in almost every port. I learned what produce was in season, and what foods and supplies were generally unavailable. I researched the best restaurants and regional dishes, and which ingredients from other countries or islands I might find, such as Jamaican hot sauces, gin, rum, and marmalade, so we’d experience the best the Abacos had to offer, and build these good tastes into our cruising menus.
THEMED HORS D’OEUVRES
I’m too impatient to make complicated canapés, pastry wrapped morsels, or tiny stuffed tidbits, so my favorite hors d’oeuvre preparations tend to be abundant platters of seasonally fresh and readily available foods. I often organize the selections by cuisine, especially if I find products from the target region or similar ingredients. This Christmas I received a most unusual gift -- a whole Serrano ham on the bone from Spain. Over the holidays, I served this delicious ham as the centerpiece of a tapas display before dinner, using recipes and ingredients I often serve aboard Seaworthy at cocktail time. Some examples of my favorite ethnically “themed” hors d’oeuvres that work well aboard include:
Spanish Tapas: Thin sliced Serrano ham, chorizo sausage and Manchego cheese; sautéed mushrooms in garlic and parsley; roasted almonds; marinated olives; shrimp sautéed in garlic, butter and paprika; Spanish red wines and fino sherry.
Italian Antipasiti: Tomato or pepper bruschetta; olive or artichoke tapenade with bread sticks; chopped chicken liver crostini; mixed olives; pickled vegetables; lupini beans; caper berries; pecorino romano cheese; fresh mozzarella with tomatoes and basil; assorted salamis and hams; pinot grigio or amarone valpolicello from Italy.
Middle Eastern Meze: Hummous; baba ganoush; tabbouleh; toasted pita bread; feta cheese; cherry tomatoes; sliced cucumbers and peppers; calamata olives; zinfandel, pinot noir, sauvignon blanc or reisling.
Provencal Hors d’Oeuvres: Aioli or flavored olive oil with raw and steamed vegetables; smoked fish; country pate with cornichons; smoked sausages; soft and hard cheeses; rose wine from Provence or pinot noir.
Pacific Rim Appetizers: Candied walnuts; pickled cucumbers; edomame soy beans; easy to heat mini-egg rolls; steamed or pan fried dumplings; sate skewers of shrimp, beef and chicken with spicy peanut sauce sauce; hot or cold sake or fruity reisling or Beaujolais wine.
Southwest- Mexican Fiesta: Assorted salsas with chips; 7-layer dip; guacamole; grilled quesadillas; beef or chicken nachos; ceviche; maragaritas, fruity red or white wines and ice cold beer.
HOW TO STOCK UP
The first time Jim and I raced a sailboat to Bermuda, I brought such an excess of food and drink that I missed the most exciting part of the race – the start -- while down below desperately trying to stash all the provisions! Now I divide the list into the following four basic storage area categories, and try to shop and devise menus that spread storage into each of these areas. Here are examples of hors d’oeuvres in each category.
1. Fresh food cupboard: These items need no refrigeration but must be used within several days -- fresh breads, onions, garlic, peppers, tomatoes, and other vegetables – and are often the centerpiece of the hors d’oeuvres spread:
- Relish Tray of raw cut up vegetables such as radish, endive, fennel, celery, carrots, summer squash, green beans, and young asparagus, paired with a warm flavored olive oil or homemade blue cheese or green goddess dressing for dipping; and pickled vegetables such as olives, pickled onions, lupini beans, cornichons, or caper berries marinated in olive oil and herbs --a nice contrast to creamy dips
- Tomato or mushroom bruschetta and chicken liver crostini
2. Fresh foods requiring refrigeration: Salad, meats, cheese, fish, fresh fruit, nuts, condiments, herbs presented in a variety of combinations:
- Endive leaf stuffed with gorgonzola, pomegranate seeds and pecans
- Fresh figs with goat cheese and parma ham
- Melon wrapped in prosciutto ham with hard Italian cheese slices
- Fresh strawberries with marscapone or St. Andre cheese and toasted pecans
- Oven-roasted garlic smeared on French bread then spread with warm brie and a dab of berry jam
- Apples with cheddar cheese and ripe, soft pears with stilton and walnuts
- Fish platter of raw, steamed, or smoked/cured fish; sliced sushi-grade tuna; conch or scallop ceviche; steamed shrimp or crab; smoked trout or gravlax; smoked halibut, salmon or shrimp spread accompanied by cocktail sauce, chopped onion, capers, lemon, horseradish sauce or mustard, and thin pumpernickel or rye bread
3. Frozen foods: Meats, seafood, breads and ready-to-heat appetizers add variety to late-day cocktails or they make a full meal:
- Quality frozen, ready-to-heat puff-pastry-wrapped tidbits, miniature quiches, stuffed mushrooms, pigs in blankets, tiropitas, tiny egg rolls, asian dumplings, stuffed clams, coconut shrimp, stromboli
- Frozen cooked calamari rings; shrimp cocktail; medium shrimp and scallops tossed with olive oil, lemon and herbs, or Asian style with oil, salt, sugar and jalapeno peppers. Supplement frozen items with fresh conch ceviche, sushi-grade tuna sliced with wasabi (Japanese horseradish), and clams or oysters
4. Canned and dried foods: In addition to the usual potato chips, nuts, wine crackers, cheese straws, and flatbread, always keep ingredients for several “off the shelf” cooked and uncooked hors d’oeuvres that don’t require fresh foods or refrigeration:
- Tortellini pasta served on toothpicks and dipped in canned tomato sauce, pesto or other off-the-shelf pasta sauce
- Canned artichoke hearts, mushrooms, tuna, salmon, shrimp or crab mixed with grated parmesan cheese and mayonnaise and baked for 15-20 minutes in a 350 degree oven to make hot dips for crackers, croutons, and vegetables
- Escargots drizzled with garlic and oil, broiled for 5 minutes and served with crackers, bread or stuffed in a mushroom cap
- Jars of olive, artichoke, tomato or pepper tapenade served with breadsticks or pita bread
- Jars of green and black olives, eggplant caponata, roasted red peppers, and marinated vegetables for a quick vegetable antipasto
- Salsas, bean dips, and queso with taco chips
- Smoked summer sausage and smoked cheese with a variety of mustards
- Nuts and dried fruit
- Hot pepper jelly with crackers and smoked or cream cheese
THE FINAL TOUCH
Balance flavors and textures when creating your hors d’oeuvres menu: sweet, sour, spicy, salty tastes in crunchy, crispy, creamy, chewy, juicy, and tender textures tantalize guests to taste and combine the foods offered. When you’re having pot-luck appetizers, co-ordinate with your fellow cooks to make complimentary dishes – one guest brings something spicy, another something salty and crunchy, another something sweet and juicy.
Don’t be afraid to experiment and try local products. My favorite scallop ceviche recipe becomes conch salad in the Abacos; salmon gravlax becomes tuna gravlax in Florida; proscuitto becomes country ham in the southern Chesapeake Bay.
Start out with a well stocked bar and soft drink supply, supplement these with local drinks, and you make great discoveries! Carry wine and drink glasses (glass if you can store them safely) or reusable good-quality plastic ware that makes guests feel like they are having a real drink (as opposed to paper cups). Always have a generous supply of napkins, paper plates, toothpicks, skewers, plastic silverware, cheese knives and spreaders aboard. I prefer lightweight wood, bamboo, horn, shell or plastic trays and attractive baskets to heavy stoneware or delicate china on the boat. Their weight and virtual indestructibility make them ideal for going up and down the flybridge and while underway! Most of my trays are neutrals – teak or blonde woods, white, navy and clear trays that can contrast nicely with the foods served on them; for example pale tortellini on a dark tray with green pesto in a white bowl, or pink smoked salmon on a black tray with chopped red onion, green capers and dill decorating the fillet. For more contrast and to protect your baskets and trays, use white doilies, brightly colored paper leaves and cloth or paper napkins in various colors.
More important than what you serve and how it looks is the mood you set when you sit and relax with a cocktail and snack! Making everyone aboard feel comfortable and well cared for, and taking part in the conversation, sunset watching or toasting, sends a message to your family and guests that you enjoy their company and want to share the joy of the moment with them. Food and drink enhances the camaraderie, but YOU create it. Skall!
HOT HORS D’OEUVRES
Mushroom Or Shrimp Tapas
½ lb. sliced mushrooms or ½ lb. medium shrimp
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic chopped fine
¼ tsp paprika
splash of sherry
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
Sliced French or Italian bread
Sauté sliced mushrooms or medium shrimp in oil and garlic. Add 2 cloves chopped garlic, paprika, and sherry. Cook on medium high until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with chopped parsley. Serves 4-6.
Slow-Roasted Tomato Bruschetta
Roma/plum tomatoes washed and sliced in half
Salt and pepper
Chopped fresh basil, rosemary, thyme or parsley
Toasted slices of bread rubbed with raw garlic (after toasting)
Set oven to 300 degrees. On a cookie sheet covered with aluminum foil, pour or spray a thin layer of olive oil and sprinkle a little salt and fresh ground pepper. Place tomato halves face down on cookie sheet, and place in oven for 1 ½ - 2 hours. Tomato halves should collapse, wrinkle up and caramelize along the edges. Toast sliced French or Italian bread and rub with fresh garlic clove. Serve individual tomato halves on slices of bread garnished with herbs or serve tomatoes in bowl surrounded by bread and let guests help themselves. (If tomatoes are hard, or less sweet, such as those we sometimes get in the winter, sprinkle a bit of sugar before cooking to promote the caramelization process.)
Alternatively, use tomatoes to make quick pizza: Sprinkle grated mozzarella, crumbled blue or goat cheese on a prepared pizza shell (Boboli is my favorite) and top with roasted tomatoes, chopped garlic or onion and fresh herbs. Bake in 400 degree oven for 10 minutes and serve. Serves 4-6.
COLD HORS D’OEUVRES
VEGETABLE DISPLAYS AND DIPS
Look for the freshest vegetables at the market, cut into attractive, bite-sized pieces, and display on large tray or in shallow basket. My favorite raw vegetables for dipping include: Broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, celery, endive, fennel, mushroom, radish, scallions, sugar snap peas, summer squash, grape tomatoes.
Aioli may be used as a delicious dip or sauce for vegetables, fish and meat on its own, or it may be used in place of prepared mayonnaise on sandwiches, in dips and spreads.
Large pinch of kosher salt
1 clove of garlic chopped
1 fresh egg yolk (raw or boiled for one to two minutes to keep yolk liquid)
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 cup olive oil
1/4 cup vegetable oil (canola)
Using a food processor fitted with the steel blade, process garlic, egg yolk and mustard in food processor until smooth. With the machine running, pour oils in a thin, steady stream through the feed tube to make a thick emulsion (may take several minutes to do this). When thick, season with lemon, salt and pepper as needed. Refrigerate covered until ready to use; can be safely used up to one week. Serves 4-6.
Hint: If the emulsion does not thicken up on the first try; empty food processor contents into a pitcher, place another egg yolk into bowl of food processor and pour contents of pitcher in a slow steady stream through the feed tube and it will emulsify on the second try!
14 oz. can garbanzo beans
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
4 tbsps of sesame seed paste (tahini)
2 tbsp lemon juice
Cilantro or parsley, salt and pepper
Drain and mash garbanzo beans, garlic and sesame paste together (or process in blender or food processor until smooth). If hummous is too thick , add a couple tbsps of water or olive oil to thin it out. Add lemon juice, then salt and pepper to taste and garnish with chopped herbs. Serve with flatbread crackers or toasted pita bread. Serves 4-6.
1 medium eggplant
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
4 tbsps of sesame seed paste (tahini)
Juice of ½ lemon (or 2 tbsp lemon juice)
Cilantro or parsley, salt and pepper
Cut eggplant in half lengthwise, place on aluminum foil-lined baking sheet in 350-degree oven for 20-30 minutes until tender (alternatively you may wrap in aluminum foil and place on hot grill for 15-20 minutes). When cool, scrape out baked eggplant and mix with garlic, tahini, lemon then salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with cilantro or parsley and serve with flatbread or toasted pita bread. Serves 4-6.