Friday, December 31, 2010

The Feast of Seven Fishes

This is our first "non-Dorie" post but since the event was held on a Friday and it involved wonderful food, Nana and I decided to share.  Last Friday was Christmas Eve and our families shared the tradition of the Feast of Seven Fishes.     

~ Festa Dei Sette Pesci ~               

The basic premise is that the Italian Catholics share a Christmas Eve meal that is meatless, focusing on fish dishes.  The number seven is believed to refer to and honor the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church. There is typically also pasta, not to mention all the salads and desserts.  Needless to say, it is truly a "feast" when you consider how much and how wonderful all the courses are.  In fact, you would do well to diet a few days before hand and go easy on breakfast and lunch that day.....

There is no set menu, and while some dishes are newer- there are a basic few for which it just simply wouldn't be Christmas Eve without.

This year's "Seven":

1)  Baccala  -  this is salted cod. Nana makes a wonderful antipasto type salad of this.  Made ahead of time.  Mainstay of the Feast - this dish is Christmas Eve to our family.   

2)  Smelts - small fish deep fried, typically in flour only.  This year it got the same beer batter as the calamari.  My boys referred to these as "little fishys" when younger.  We fry these in between courses (OK, the boys do with my husband and father....deep frying is the "men's job" in our kitchen :)  Mainstay.


beer for batter only- we enjoy Champagne as we cook !

3)  Mussels - cooked in white wine, with onion & parsley.  Another mainstay.

4)  Chickpeas with Tonno (tuna)  - this was a fairly new addition.  The tuna is made into a salad with chickpeas (garbanzo beans) ahead of time.  You really need to find this Italian tuna at a specialty store.  Even though we live in suburban Philadelphia, Nana had trouble locating the correct tuna this year and actually ended up purchasing it from Bob's Italian Foods in Medford, Mass.  Nana highly recommends them.

5)  Shrimp -  Nana makes her "BBQ Shrimp" (name is really misleading- it is like broiled seasoned shrimp) and this dish is one of the few that we have at other times throughout the year.  The shrimp is marinated in olive oil with a mix of vinegar, oregano, parsley,and tomato paste, and then broiled in the oven.

Nana found this recipe years ago and it is spectacular.  I personally like to make the shrimp and then cook up some spaghetti or angel hair to go with it.  I use the oil baste as my sauce and serve the shrimp on top with more cracked pepper and parmesan cheese.   And don't forget the French baguette on the side.   Heaven.

6)  Calamari - we always serve this breaded and deep fried. This year it was a beer batter.  Mainstay.   

7)  Crab Louis - this is also a fairly recent addition.  It is crab salad that is very rich and has a bit of a sweet taste to it.  It is especially good spread on top of a slice of the rustic Italian bread that Nana serves with this meal...just in case you were not full enough ;) 

Nana added a marinated mozzarella and tomato salad, as well as a large mixed green salad to complete the meal.  And did I mention the fresh rustic bread ?

A few bottles of a great champagne to go with the dinner and it was a Merry Christmas.

We ended the meal with delicious Italian pastries, strufoli (honey balls), panetone, with a wonderful assortment of candies from Sees Candy... direct from San Francisco.  

I can not recall a Christmas Eve that our families did not celebrate this meal, although the location and participants have changed over the years - resulting in many calories and even more wonderful memories.  The hosts were originally (for me) my Italian grandparents....this would be Nana's "in laws".  The baton passed to my Italian Aunt Rita who is perhaps one of the best cooks and hostesses that I know.  You will never leave her table hungry or feeling like you have not received love, attention and the best food available.  I personally tease that my husband decided he would propose to me after he got the previously unheard of "non-family" invite to attend the Feast of Seven Fish at Aunt Rita's house.  You can't get a better testimony regarding meals and traditions than that ! 

The family has grown and changed locations over the years and as my cousins, brother and I have grown and married we have brought others into the fold.  One of the most wonderful changes to the tradition came when my own two sons (now 14 and 17) were given their own aprons from Nana and Grandpa and called into service to help with the fish frying that occurs in between courses.  It should be noted that Nana and Grandpa bought these aprons on a trip to France...just to make the initiation of the young chefs all the more memorable.    The boys were quite young at the time but even young children are not only able to batter the fish for deep frying by the adults, but love the chance to get their hands into the ingredients.

The 7 fishes of choice have changed a bit over the years- and we sometimes add to the mix but never to end up with an "even" number of fish dishes....I am not sure why, but the custom is that you must end up with an odd number.  So if you add lobster as the 8th fish, you had better come up with another recipe to make it to 9.  I think a few years we made it up to 13.  After all, it is only one day a year ;)

We also had the pleasure of being joined this holiday by my Aunt Paula who flew in from San Francisco to help us with the Feast.  We have enjoyed sharing this meal with her on many occasions over the years and find the feast to be a wonderful opportunity to enjoy those we are able to celebrate with today as well as to enjoy the memories of those with whom we have shared the tradition in the past.

On one last note.  Nana and I took a gourmet bus trip with my 14 year old this summer, and traveled to various locations in New York City....including a trip to the Italian markets in the Bronx.  We had folks on the bus who grew up all over the country- the west, mid west, mid Atlantic, etc.  Somehow we got on the topic of this Feast and people were calling out from all over the bus about their families celebrating too and which fish they selected- regardless of where they were from. We were quite surprised, and my son was amazed. Like this blog and most food topic, food really does bring strangers as well as family together.

Happy New Year from Tricia and Nana !

Friday, December 24, 2010

Leek & Potato Soup A la Tricia

Like everyone else, Nana and I have been particularly busy this holiday week.  Nana is hosting the annual family "Feast of Seven Fishes" and I have been keeping my family underfed all week to attempt to make it through the amazing meal. 

For those who have not heard of it, it is a Christian meal tradition whereby 7 different fish dishes are enjoyed on Christmas Eve.  We are an Italian/French family and 100% into the tradition of this meal.  I will go into more detail next week with a recap and a few photos of the incredible feast. 

Very simple recipe - just chopping prep and standard ingredients. 

I read other's posts and agreed with those who aimed for a richer version.  So my liquids were organic chicken stock and 2% milk.  It was a very rich and creamy base, but I did not feel that it was too rich - I guess the 2% milk that I had on hand might have been a good offset to the whole milk.

For now, enjoy the Potato Leek soup photos as much as we enjoyed the soup last night.  And for the record, I gave my hubby both the chunky version and then a bowl after I used my immersion mixer.  He preferred chunky (too late ;).  Both sons agreed when they later had a bowl and explained that they would have liked it more if there were "pieces of potato" in it.  I will know for next time and this dish was so simple and delicious that there WILL be a next time. 

Happy Holidays from Tricia and Nana !!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Cookie Week - Speculoos & Sable Bretons

This week Nana tried her hand at Dorie's Speculoos
and the entire family enjoyed this very holiday appropriate recipe. 

One of the most fun parts of the experience was that
Tricia jogged her memory and searched her cupboards
for the "leftover" little packaged cookies that she and Nana
 kept receiving at the Paris cafes this Spring. 
Ah, memories.....

And guess what they are called :) 

Who knew ?? 
Tricia originally brought them home for her hubby
and sons to enjoy (since she was eating all the fresh...non packaged....baked goods while in Paris). 

The kids were none too excited, so the cookies
 got stashed with the Laduree jam and
 other not too perishable "precious" items
 to be enjoyed at a later date.

By someone who gets excited over them :)

Nana's Speculoos:

I was excited to try this recipe because I thought it
would make a lovely addition to the Christmas roster.

When I combined  the flour mixture and butter
 I immediately knew this would not work.  

I checked the recipe again, and finally realized
I had missed the note about the egg.  
After making that addition, I still could not make
the dough come together, so I added a smidge of water to hold it.  
 I'm certain, had I used the egg in the proper order, it
would have turned out better.

After three hours of chilling, I still
had my doubts about these little cookies.   
8-10 minutes of baking was not enough time so
I added an additional 5 minutes.  
This worked well, giving them a little brown edge.
These cookies were soooooo delicious, they may replace
NANA'S RICOTTA COOKIES for this season.    

Tricia's comment:
 We want them all, Nana.  Keep baking those cookies. 
 Ricotta and Speculoos alike ;)

Nana's Cookie Extra Credit -
Dorie's Sable Breton Cookies (page 465)


I really wanted to see if these cookies were in any way close
to the flavors in my mother's recipe for Breton cake
 that  I usually make at Christmastime.  

This recipe was fairly simple, but plan ahead because it
 must be chilled at least six hours. 
I prepared the cookie dough the night before so I could start baking early.  

There is something about the flavor of Breton, be it
cookies or cake that I just love.
The taste was the same in each, except that I brush
 an egg yolk on the top of the cake
which gives it a beautiful glaze finish.

I have tasted Breton in both Paris and
 in Brittany, and the flavor never changes.

I know this was not one of the recipes for December,
 but in the spirit of Christmas,
I had to try it.

Notice the lovely charger on display. 
Tricia's Comment: 
Nana is teasing about the charger plate,
because it is mine and she borrowed it for the holidays :)  
These cookies were absolutely lovely. 
 Breton cookies always are and these did not disappoint.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Sweet & Spicy Cocktail Nuts Plus Spiced Butter-Glazed Carrots

 This week we decided to "divide and conquer" to each try a different December recipe in anticipation of schedule craziness and unexpected busy-ness (ok, it is "expected" :) at the end of the month. 

We had also agreed that we would catch up by each trying the recipes individually ....for instance Tricia will do next week what Nana did this week....provided none get a thumbs down ;)

Nana's try at the "Sweet and Spicy Cocktail Nuts":

This is a  easy recipe to make and the results were very tasty.

I used a combination of almonds and peanuts.  However, I do think using a larger nut such as pecans would be better, since they would be more uniform in size.  On my  "to do" list for the next trip to Costco.

That said,  I am pleased with the flavor of these.

The first taste makes you think that they are not sweet and certainly not spicy. But it has something in it that you can't eat just one.  Just ask your father.......

I will definitely give this another try before Christmas, it is great for snacking with a nice glass of anything.  Make mine Vodka on the rocks.

Tricia's comment:  Nana shared her efforts and they were very much appreciated by adult and child alike in our household....although to protect the innocent blogger family members, I can not divulge how quickly the entire sample was devoured :)  These are a winner.

Tricia's Try at "Spiced Butter-Glazed Carrots":

The great part about this recipe was that it was simple. The other great part was that it involved the use of fresh ginger, which of course smells absolutely lovely and never more so than during the holiday time of year.

 The not so great parts , other than my not caring for the results, included the cost of the infrequently used ingredients.  Fresh ginger, white pepper and cardamom.  I can sum up the results of this recipe test as "". 

 In all honesty I was less than thrilled when I read that I needed to pick up fresh ginger and cardamom seeds, but when I saw the $9.79 price tag in the supermarket for the cardamom my attitude pitched south quite dramatically. 

This was going to be a pricey side dish that I thought replicating would be a long shot. And I was right. I can firmly say that I will not be making this dish again.  

In all fairness, this dish involves some strong flavors so I imagine there is not going to be many "middle of the road" responses.  More like love or hate.  No comments from Nana coming on this one because I gave her the heads up and didn't even supply a sample......

 But as with other recipes that didn't fly, I definitely browsed related pages and will be looking forward to testing other side dishes and veggie choices in the near future.  It's all part of the journey and I consider it a victory when my kitchen smells this exotic, even if the dish will not be a repeat :)

Friday, December 3, 2010

My Go-To Beef Daube

This week Nana ventured into the December recipes while Tricia went back to conquer her failed gratin. 

Both ended in victory and further kudos to Dorie.

Nana's Go-to Beef Daube ~

 Per Nana :
The recipe was relatively simple.  

After I  measured and chopped, I start to brown the beef. 

 In this case, I purchased a piece of bottom round.  I know chuck would be a tastier cut, but there is too much trimming for our taste. 
The bottom round was slightly tougher, but with a bottle of wine, cognac, and about three hours of cooking, what's not to like ?

 I did not use the garlic halved as suggested, but I did put in about 6-7 whole cloves that disappeared, giving it a wonderful flavor, not overpowering.

I used a Syrah wine as suggested by Dorie, and my Cognac really was an Otard cognac that we purchased when we visited the Cognac area in our travels.  Little did I know I would be putting it in a stew.....
I must say that this was one of the tastiest stews I have ever made, and my husband and I both enjoyed it.
Tricia's comment: 
Nana, as usual, shared her efforts with us and this truly was an amazing stew.  Very easy to understand the recipe's name.........

Tricia's "Cauliflower Bacon Gratin"   (page 362) ~

Technically this is not a FFWD selection but was on the page following the potato gratin I did for 11/5th.  I caught site of the recipe while doing the potatoes and knew I would go back (great results or not) to try this one.

I was stumped because the potato recipe did not turn out well and it appears that I am about the only person in the universe that had such results :)  I had been intrigued by this cauliflower recipe and it contained many of the same ingredients.

Redemption !


I followed the recipe to a "T" and was more than delighted with the results.  I served it to my 14 year old son and his visiting friend (not necassarily expecting wild accolades.....) and even they had huge second helpings.

Nana got a sample and it was a winner at her house too.

This one is a winner and is going to be referred to as my "Go to Cauliflower Gratin".