Sunday, December 29, 2013

Home For The Holidays - Feast of The Seven Fishes, 2013!

Smoked Salmon with Lemon Creme Fraiche on Chips
(Thanks, Nina, for my beautiful plates!)
Photo: NK
Wow, Holidays, you really know how to exhaust a girl. But you are so worth it. I may be coming to you just a bit later than usual with the holiday recap of our annual Feast of The Seven Fishes Christmas Eve Meal, but I'm happy to say that our third year of hosting was a success! 

Many dishes from last year's menu made a repeat showing, but I also made sure to add on a few new recipes for variety's sake. In fact, we increased our number of courses overall and were very proud to serve a total of eight dishes (counting hors d'oeuvres) and a whopping nine kinds of fish! Definitely a personal best for this household! 

To kick off the evening, we served up Smoked Salmon with Lemon Creme Fraiche Canap├ęs. We made a slight change to last year's recipe by spiking the creme fraiche with about a teaspoon of lemon zest (to three tablespoons of creme) and serving the salmon mixture on a kettle-cooked potato chips! I just love hors d'oeuvres on chips, and they are much more cost effective than using blini as a base. 

Before I go on, here's our whole menu:

Feast of the Seven Fishes - 2013
Smoked Salmon Canapes on Chips (recipe HERE)
Crostini with Roasted Red Peppers & Tonnato Sauce (see below)
Individual Lump Crab Cocktails (recipe HERE)

Baccala Salad (see below)
Calamari Salad with Citrus Flavors (see below)
Zuppa di Vongole (Clams) over Savory Crouton (recipe HERE)
Shrimp & Lobster Fra Diavolo over Fettucine (recipe HERE)
Rao's Lemon Sole (recipe HERE)

Assorted Desserts Courtesy of our Guests! (scroll for photos)

Individual Lump Crab Cocktails, Photo: NK
For our next hors d'oeuvre bite, we served crostini that had been lightly brushed with a classic Italian sauce called Tonnato, before being topped with slices of roasted pepper. A personal favorite of mine, Tonnato is  a tuna-based sauce most traditionally served with thinly sliced, chilled veal. The sauce is native to the Piedmont region in Italy.  Forgetting himself, my husband cutely refers to it as "tornado." As in: "Are you making the tornado appetizer?" He sure is good for comic relief. I hope you enjoy this festive, easy, and very Italian nibble, Crostini With Roasted Red Peppers & Tonnato Sauce:

Crostini with Roasted Red Peppers & Tonnato Sauce, Photo: NK  

Crostini With Roasted Red Peppers & Tonnato Sauce 
Adapted from Food & Wine and inspired by Epicurious
Serves 8, 2 pieces per guest
Make Ahead: Tonnato sauce can be made up to 2 days ahead and stored in the fridge. Assemble crostini about an hour or less before serving. 


1/4 Cup Olive Oil based Mayonnaise
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
3 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
One 6-Ounce Jar Italian Tuna packed in Olive Oil
3 teaspoons Capers (divided), drained and well rinsed
2 Tablespoons Water
6 Anchovy fillets
1 Jar Roasted Red Peppers, drained and patted dry, sliced into 1/2 inch strips
1 Crusty French Baguette, sliced into 16 thin slices, brushed with Olive Oil and toasted 
1/2 Cup finely chopped Italian Parsley

1. Blend 2 teaspoons capers with Mayonnaise, Olive Oil, Lemon Juice, Tuna, and Water until smooth and silky. You can prepare up to this step as much as 2 days in advance. Keep refrigerated. 

2. Spread about a teaspoon of Tonnato Sauce on each slice of bread. Now top each toast with 2-3 slices of Red Pepper. Sprinkle with Capers and ample Parsley. Enjoy!

This Sicilian style calamari salad is understated, clean and delicious. A dash of orange flavor makes it interesting and bright. Cooking the calamari just right is the key to nailing this recipe - and steaming the fish is a great way to achieve the perfect texture.  It'll become an instant classic at your holiday table, but is simple enough for everyday. 

Calamari Salad With Citrus Flavors, Photo: NK

Calamari Salad With Citrus Flavors
Lightly adapted from Lidia Bastianich
Serves 6 as a light appetizer
Make Ahead: This salad will keep nicely in the fridge for 24 hours. Bring to room temp before serving, or served chilled if you prefer. 

1.5 - 2 Pounds Cleaned Calamari (medium-large size, tubes and tentacles)
1 Lemon
3 Dried Bay Leaves
1.5 Tablespoons Lemon Juice 
1 Orange, zested (for about a Tablespoon of zest)
3/4 teaspoon Kosher Salt or Sea Salt, divided
3 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper or more to taste
3 Tablespoons Italian Parsley, chopped

1. Set a large pot with a few inches of water at the bottom on the stove, enough you'll be able to position a colander inside of the pot without it touching the water. Shave all the yellow zest off the lemon using a paring knife. Avoid the white pith. Add the lemon rinds and bay leaves to the water and bring it to a simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. This will infuse the water with their aromas. 

2. While the water simmers, rinse Calamari tubes and tentacles well. Slice the tubes into 1/3 inch rings. For the larger tubes, you can fold them over lengthwise in order to slice them more easily. Trim any extra-long tentacles and discard.

3. Once water has simmered for a half hour, place the colander atop the pot and add the calamari. Cover the pot, and allow to steam for 2 minutes. Add two pinches of salt to the calamari and toss in the colander. Repeat this process about 3 times for a total of 8-10 minutes steaming time. Note:The 8 minutes is broken into 2 minute intervals where you season and toss the squid. You'll know the squid is done when it is tender but slightly springy to the bite. 

4. Remove the colander to a sink and allow the calamari to drain and cool a bit for about 5 minutes. Place calamari in a bowl and toss with crushed red pepper, olive oil, lemon juice, grated orange zest, and parsley. Taste for seasoning and add any remaining salt if needed. Serve warm or at room temperature. Enjoy!!   

Baccala Salad. Photo: NK

And now, for what ended up being the sleeper hit of our Christmas Eve feast, our version of Baccala Salad. But first, a confession: for years, I've felt semi-fradulent by not including de rigueur Baccala in our Italian fish menu. Baccala is dried salt cod that requires soaking and reconstituting in water before it can be used in food preparations. Truth is, I've never liked eating salt cod in fillet form, even though, interestingly, plain old fresh cod is probably one of my favorite fish. But who am I to impugn a food that generations of Italian grandmas have revered? So, with the best of intentions, I tried my hand at Baccala (a day in advance of my party, just in case the worst happened). 

For the three days preceding, I'd dutifully soaked the cod, and changed the water twice per day as directed. Still, when I finally boiled it up, I found it fishy and not that tender. Definitely not something I was comfortable serving. Granted, I probably did something massively wrong or overcooked the fish, but the show needed to go on, and I was determined to complete my cod mission. One fillet of fresh cod later and I was on my way. The result was delicious. Besides, we here at Neurotic Kitchen don't spend three days preparing anything, so this fresh cod solution was really much more our speed. With just six minutes in poaching liquid, what emerged was a stunning white cod fillet that was plump and ready to be mixed up with some mouthwatering hot cherry peppers, olives, and capers. I am drooling again as I write this. Enjoy! 

Baccala Salad
Adapted from the Rao's Cookbook
Serves 6 as a light appetizer course 
Make Ahead: You can prepare this up to 6 or 7 hours in advance. Store in the fridge and serve at room temperature

2 - 8 to 10 Ounce Fillets of  Fresh Icelandic Cod
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
2 Garlic Cloves, crushed
1/4 Cup Lemon Juice
1/2 Cup Hot Cherry Peppers, sliced
1/2 Cup Sweet Vinegar Peppers, sliced
1/2 Cup pitted Gaeta Olives, sliced in half
2 Tablespoons Capers, rinsed
3 Tablespoons Italian Parsley, chopped
Salt and Pepper to taste

1. Place cod fillets in a deep saute pan and fill the pan with water until fillets are just submerged. Bring the pan to a steady boil and turn off the heat immediately. Cover and allow the fish to poach for 6 minutes untouched. It should be opaque and flake easily when finished. Carefully remove fillets to a flat surface. Check for bones and skin and remove any that remain. Gently crumble or slice the fish into bite-sized cubes. Allow fish to cool fully and place it in a bowl. 

2. In a small pan, heat the oil and saute the garlic cloves in for 3 minutes over low heat. Cool the oil. 

3. Pour the oil and garlic over the cod and add lemon juice, the peppers, olives, capers, and parsley. Stir gently and add salt and pepper to taste. Place on a platter and serve at room temperature. 


Before I leave you, I wanted to share some of the great desserts our guests brought to Christmas Eve, and the next day to Christmas dinner at my mother-in-law's house. To say we ate well over these two days would be an understatement.  I hope you enjoyed this holiday recap and that you are having a festive season with your loved ones. See you in the New Year! 

My Mom's delicious Coconut Cupcakes (Ina Garten's Recipe)
Photo: NK
My Mom's beautiful Chocolate Layer Cake (Ina Garten's Recipe) plus holly from our backyard, Photo: NK

My Sister-in-Law's gorgeous and delectable Chocolate Berry Wreath Cake and
 Mom-in-Law's very yummy Key Lime Pie (Cook's Illustrated Recipe) Photo: NK

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