This year is ending on a high note for me, after over a year of sadness with the suicide of one of my best girlfriends (one of The Blount County Girls, aka The BCGs). It’s fitting that this year’s Christmas tree was red and green. Red symbolizes courage and energy, while green indicates healing, endurance and growth.
Every year I change the color theme for the ornaments on our fifteen foot tree; this year’s motif was red and green. The symbolism of those two colors on the tree this year pretty much sums up my journey in 2015.
After the suicide of my friend Linda, I was thrown into the depths of grief like I’ve never known. I felt like I was in a fog and couldn’t find my way out of it. I lost all (well almost all) interest in food and worse, I lost my creativity with regard to food.
If you have followed me for a while, you will have noticed that I didn’t post nearly as often in 2015. Frankly, I just didn’t have it in me.
That said, as the year progressed and I wasn’t feeling any better, I decided that I needed some kind of tangible motivation for pulling myself out of this spiral of despair. Of course, that meant setting an enormous goal for myself with regard to food. And I did.
Every year for well over a decade, Mr. Saucy and I have spent Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve with our dear friends, Pat and Jim. Sometimes there are more people about, sometimes fewer, sometimes it’s just us four. But those traditions are two we love so much. In the past, we have hosted Thanksgiving at our house, while they have held Christmas Eve at theirs.
This year, as part of my goal, I asked them if they would consider swapping holidays. Even though I always cooked a Christmas feast for Mr. Saucy and me, I thought that by having a different holiday meal to plan that involved entertaining, I might just find a spark of inspiration.
Once they agreed to the change, I started planning. This was in June. And yes…I did start thinking about Christmas food in June. I already had my tree theme decided, so it didn’t take me long to arrive at the perfect match for the tree colors of red and green: Since the Italian flag contains red and green, I decided I would do the Italian Christmas Eve tradition of The Feast of the Seven Fishes.
While The Feast of the Seven Fishes isn’t necessarily a seven course meal, that is what I determined I would do. And since I had never executed a seven course meal, that was the challenge I set for myself.
Fortunately, when I want to be, I am a very organized person. So planning was crucial in pulling off a seven course meal. But, I was able to do it…and it was fabulous (if I do say so myself). From planning and setting the table, to cooking the food and deciding on the presentation, I enjoyed every. single. second. Here are some photos of the meal, followed by a story of the near disaster I had…and how Downton Abbey saved the day:
The table was set with Christmas china (one of my five patterns – I’m a freak for china), silver and crystal. Julep cups held the flower arrangements, the napkins were folded to look like elf boots, and I even molded individual servings of butter into fish shapes (using a chocolate mold). Here is one of the settings up close:
Following the course structure for an Italian seven course meal, my courses were:
- Aperitivo – This is informal appetizers, normally served standing, or sitting, during cocktail hour.
- Antipasto – This is a slightly heavier starter, normally cold, but I served a hot dish.
- Primo – This is technically the first course, and can be a pasta, but I chose to do soup.
- Secondo and Contorno (which is the side dish) – The main course and side dish (served on a side plate).
- Insalata – The salad course.
- Formaggi e frutta – The cheese and fruit course.
- Dolce, Caffè and Digestivo – The dessert, coffee and digestive (or after-dinner drink).
And the photos (which, let me say, were not staged like my normal food shots, where I take the time to make sure every plate is perfect, the lighting just so etc…they were on the fly while we were eating):
Apertivo (above): Marinated Goat Cheese, Creamy Artichoke Dip, a crudité of fresh vegetables and olives, smoked salmon and Bagna càuda (a warm dip typical of Piedmont, Italy – and a recipe shared with me by my friend Taina – so many thanks, because this is delicious and I will be sharing the recipe in the future).
Antipasto (above): A new recipe of mine, Italian-style Baked Oysters; containing butter, wine, shallots, prosciutto, bread crumbs with butter and parsley. This is my portion, everyone else had two (because I have misplaced my other stainless-steel oyster cups).
Primo: This was my soup course and I did a stand-by recipe of my own, Lobster Bisque (the linked recipe is with shrimp, but this version is lobster – you can use any fish with the bisque recipe posted).
This (above) was a palate cleanser of lemon sorbet. I’ll be publishing this recipe for you at some point. I don’t own a counter top ice cream machine, and if you don’t either, I plan to show the very simple way I made this sorbet.
The pièce de résistance of the Secondo (above): Whole Flounder Stuffed with Crab and Shrimp.
Secondo and Contorno (above): Filet of Beef and Flounder Stuffed with Crab and Shrimp, served with Béarnaise Sauce (more about the sauce later), and the side dish (contorno) of Herb Roasted Root Vegetables (golden beets and fingerling potatoes).
Insalata (above): A traditional Caesar Salad. I, of course, made the dressing and used coddled egg yolks as well as anchovies.
Formaggi e frutta (above): This is normally a selection of cheeses and fruits, but I knew we wouldn’t be able to eat much more. I hydrated figs in port and balsamic vinegar, then stuffed them with Gorgonzola cheese and a toasted pecan. I drizzled a bit of balsamic reduction over the top.
Finally, Dolce: For dessert I made a bread pudding from Panettone bread (an Italian Christmas bread). It was topped with Amaretto Custard and an Amaretto Cream. Coffee was espresso, and everyone had a choice of digestives.
The only hitch in the meal came as I was preparing to serve the Secondo. I slid my Béarnaise Sauce just on the edge of the gas burner to heat. I was watching it, but must have gotten distracted and it overheated and broke (this means the emulsion separated).
Since it was such an important (to me) component of the course, I wanted to serve it. Then, I remembered! Jimmy fixed the hollandaise sauce on Downton Abbey! I couldn’t remember exactly what he did. So, at first I added a bit of vinegar and whisked the sauce. Nothing. Then! Then, I thought…”Oh! It was an egg yolk!” So, I separated an egg yolk, added it, whisked and Voila! The broken Béarnaise Sauce was magically mended! It was a Christmas miracle.
Thanks to Downton Abbey, my fancy pants supper was saved!
The Seven Fishes: Anchovies, Smoked Salmon, Oysters, Lobster, Flounder, Crab and Shrimp.
This meal was an accomplishment for me, since it was my first ever seven course meal; beyond that, I feel like it gave me back the gift of my confidence and creativity with food. And I am so thankful. So, thank you for being here, thank you for sticking with me even when I was down and not posting as much, and here’s to a fabulous 2016.
If there are recipes you’re interested in seeing posted from this meal, let me know in the comments and I will get to them.
p.s.: There were 36 stems of crystal used throughout the course of the night. Mr. Saucy washed every one of them for me on Christmas day. He’s a gem.