What does a caterer do to take his mind off other peoples' parties? Jeff Ellis, president of Ridgewell's Caterers, heads for his 46-foot Bertram, a sport fishing boat docked in Kent Narrows outside of Annapolis. "The only way I can go on a boat and relax is to make sure the meal is easy, organized and cold."
Ellis prefers simple entertaining, directing his attention toward fishing for marlin or bluefish rather than worrying about feeding his guests or himself.
"Do you really want to know what I cook? I put garlic muenster on Ritz crackers and heat them up in the microwave. Then, using a little hibachi, I barbecue the fish we have caught with lemon butter and a few herbs -- or just give me a plain hamburger. I'll bring a simple salad, frozen pina coladas or peach daiquiris with fresh fruit and, of course, ice cold beer. That's it. My favorite is smoked shark or marlin with a good, cold beer. Then I really feel of the elements. I'm not a real fancy guy."
Ellis has donated boat trips to charities, which auction the boat trip and times $1,000). For these events, Ellis gets Ridgewell-fancy.
For hors d'oeuvres, Ellis fills a one-person raft with ice and then covers it with oysters and clams, all shucked off shore. He decorates it with fresh fantail shrimp and crab claws.
For the main course and dessert, Ellis developed a package to enable him to be an elegant, effortless host. He fills a fish net with a plastic disk that is used as a placemat. On top of that, he sets the plate of food, which has been enclosed with an insulated plastic bottom and top -- much like the ones that cover fancy carryout salads. This holds the main course, which might include Seasacks (strips of prime beef mesquite grilled, sliced and garnished with herb sauce), baby chicken wings rubbed with paprika, lime juice, cayenne and garlic; "wild scallop rice" salad with toasted pecans served in tiny scallop shells; tomatoes and mozarella cheese; and holes hollowed out and filled with anchovy butter). The dessert, which Ellis has packaged in glass jars with tight-fitting lids, is sea foam, a light, creamy treat layered with fresh raspberries; it is accompanied by chocolate madeleines, iced with chocolate and covered with candy pearls. As soon as the guests board the boat, these food-filled nets are put in the cooler.
Beer is an absolute necessity on the boat. Ellis provides a choice of imported and domestic beers packed in ice. "You can never have too much beer on a boat," insists Ellis. "But more important than the beer, always provide more ice than you ever thought you needed. People get really thirsty on a boat." WILD SCALLOP RICE
Serves 8 to 10
2 tablespoons butter
medium onion, diced
1 pound wild rice
1 bay leaf
8 ounces mushroom tops, washed and dipped in lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
3 cups water (about)
1/2 cup corn oil
2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
3/4 pound bay scallops, blanched
1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions
4 ounces pecans halved, toasted
Heat butter in a skillet and saut,e the onions until soft. Add wild rice and stir-fry until the rice starts to pop. Add the bay leaf, mushroom tops, salt and pepper to taste and cover with water. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer 18 to 20 minutes or until all water is absorbed. Make a vinaigrette out of the oil, vinegar, mustard and salt and pepper to taste. Pour over the rice, starting with a third of a cup. You can make this a day in advance. Top with scallops, scallions and pecans. Serve as is or in a scallop shell. SEA FOAM WITH RASPBERRIES
Serves 8 to 10
1 cup sugar
1 package unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup water
11/2 cups heavy cream, whipped
2 cups sour cream
Dash vanilla extract
1 to 2 tablespoons raspberry liqueur
1 pint fresh raspberries (or blueberries, diced strawberries or peaches).
In a saucepan blend sugar and gelatin. Add water, mixing well. Let stand 5 minutes, then bring to a full boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and cool. Add whipped cream slowly to hot sugar mixture. Gradually add remaining ingredients. Refrigerate.
When the cream hardens slightly, add fresh fruit. Refrigerate at least 3 hours before serving.