Christmas Eve Recap

Another Christmas come and gone. Now I go into Stay The Hell Away From Malls For A Month/Get through New Years Eve phase. But before we move on to this exciting new phase we should take a moment to recap the warmth, the fun and the utter brain-splitting insanity of a 35 person Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes. That’s right, 7 courses of seafood, something that eschews advance preparation, in quantities enough to feed 35. I could have used a workshop full of elves like Santa has to help me out. Or at least a kitchen full of illegal aliens like many restaurants.

First up were mini-lobster pot pies. These were a terrific appetizer. Shrunk down comfort food is always aces with me and one lobster was enough for 35-40 of these things.

The one pictured was actually made with leftover pot pie filling and puff pastry. The minis I served were in pre-formed pastry shells with a puff pastry lid so that no utensils were necessary. For the recipe, read through to the bottom of the page. And no skipping! Read the whole post or the recipe will disappear!

Salmon meatballs were next, a rare course in which I was able to do some of the prep in advance! I used a recipe from one of 2011′s more popular cookbooks, The Meatball Shop Cookbook. I don’t want to sound peevish, they were certainly very good. They just weren’t quite what I was looking for. They were more similar to a croquette, something they mention in the recipe. The salmon is poached in advance and mixed with mayonnaise, breadcrumbs and herbs. I guess the fear is that the salmon will cook too quickly for the breadcrumbs, eggs, etc. to catch up. However, no disrespect meant to classically trained chefs running an immensely popular restaurant, but I’ve made salmon meatballs I’ve enjoyed better.

These.

The next course was absolutely delicious, a classic Italian dish, one where a limited number of ingredients combine perfectly to deliver a “Wow!” moment. Also, it’s so easy that even FoodieWife was able to help out. For those of you new to the site, FoodieWife is named as someone who loves food and is married to someone who (without the least sense of humility) calls himself WestchesterFoodie. She can’t make a bowl of cereal. Seriously. She just can’t.  Here is her attempt at microwave popcorn……

See?!

However, look at her elegant little fingers wrapping shrimp in sage and pancetta.

I'm guessing she's scheduling a manicure as we speak.

That’s all it was. Peeled, butterflied shrimp wrapped in sage and pancetta, then roasted for 12-15 minutes at 425°. Awesome.

I mixed two cold dishes in among the hot appetizers. The first was a tuna tartare, served on a slice of cucumber and topped with a crouton, that was a take-off on Alfred Portale’s dish from Gotham Bar & Grill. The shiso leaf, if you can find it at a local Asian market, works brilliantly with the tuna.

The second cold dish was lump crab meat, tossed in a Sriracha mayonnaise, with chives on toasts. It’s a version of the dish Jean-Georges serves at ABC Kitchen.

The last of the appetizer portions was a dish I’ve been dying to try at one of the year’s hottest restaurants, but have been unable. The Oyster Sliders at The Dutch have been raved about in every review, in every medium. I simply had to make them, or at least a home version using (gasp!) store bough tartar sauce.

It was incredibly easy and the pay-off far exceeded the effort. I tossed the shucked oysters  a mixture of flour, garlic powder, salt, pepper and ground mustard, dredged them in eggs and then coated them in cornmeal with some paprika and cayenne mixed in. I’d give amounts but I’d had a few glasses of champagne by this point. Ok, maybe more than a few. Right, and the I fried them in canola oil.

I topped them with a dollop of tartar sauce and a halved cornichon. I could have hoarded them in the kitchen, eaten every one and been a happy miser. My guests may have been angry but, as Daffy Duck says, “Consequences, schmonsequences.”

At this point I was genuinely unsure if the entree I’d planned, Linguine in Clam Sauce, would even be necessary. I tend to overdo things a bit and, as I’ve mentioned countless times, portion control is my Achilles heel. However, I was informed that people were, in fact, still hungry (or at least still willing to eat), so back to the kitchen I went. I’m happy that they were as the pasta was the dish that people were still talking about the next day. It wasn’t a traditional clam sauce, but a fancied up version that, from what I’m told, was the best dish of the day/evening/night. I will recount the recipe, to the best of my ability, at the end of the post. However, I was making it up as I went and, if you saw my recycling bin the next morning, you’d understand that my memory could be a bit hazy.

All in all, it was a wonderful day. By some Christmas miracle everything turned out well and I wasn’t squirreled away in the kitchen all day. I was actually able to spend time with friends and their children. I love hosting for the holidays. I love feeding people and (hopefully) making them happy. It also serves as a constant reminder of how lucky I am to have the group of friends I have.

Recipes

Mini Lobster Pot Pies

  • Puff Pastry (I used store bought but if you want to be all high fallutin’ and make your own, have at it hotshot)
  • Mini Pastry Shells
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 1 Yukon Gold potato, diced
  • 1 cup frozen baby peas
  • 2 leeks, cleaned and chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh tarragon, chopped
  • 3/8 cup dry sherry
  • 2 cups seafood stock or lobster stock
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • one 1 1/2-2 lb. lobster
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon whole milk, separated

Steam lobster until just slightly undercooked, approximately 12 minutes. Shell and chop lobster into small chunks, reserving shell.

Blanch potatoes and carrots in boiling water until softened and cook peas (full disclosure: I did all three in the microwave). Set aside.

Add olive oil to a saute pan over medium high heat. Add leeks and celery, lowering heat, and cook until softened but not browning, approximately 6-8 minutes. Add lobster shells to pan and allow to cook for a minute. Raise heat to high and add sherry, stirring well, and cook until liquid has evaporated, about 4 minutes. Remove shells.

Add butter and, once melted, the flour. Stir constantly and cook until a blond roux develops, approximately 3 minutes. Slowly add stock, stirring well. Cook over medium heat, simmering until thickened, approximately, 6 minutes. Swirl in 1 cup of milk and stir to combine. Simmer for an additional 6 minutes until the sauce is thickened. Add lobster meat, potatoes, carrots, peas and tarragon, stir well, and cook another 2 minutes.

Whisk together egg yolks and 1 tablespoon milk. Brush egg wash over puff pastry. Cut out small circles using a mold (I used a shot glass). Cook according to directions on box. If you made your own I doubt you need my directions to cook it fancypants.

Spoon filling into pastry shells and top with puff pastry circle. Enjoy.

Fancied Up Linguine and Clam Sauce

  • 4 dozen Littleneck clams, scrubbed
  • 2 cups dry white wine.
  • 2 shallots, coarsely chopped
  • 3 sprigs thyme
  • 3 bulbs roasted garlic (instructions below)
  • 1-2 bottles clam juice.
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 1-2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
  • Juice from half a lemon
  • crushed red pepper, to taste
  • Dried linguine
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • Olive oil

Squeeze roasted garlic into a food processor and puree into a paste, adding a drizzle of olive oil if necessary.

Add clams, white wine, shallot, thyme and red pepper to a large pot. Cover and cook over high heat, steaming the clams. Watch carefully, removing clams as soon as the open, making sure to pour all liquid back into pot. Continue to cook liquid over high heat until reduced by half, approximately 8 minutes. Strain liquid through a fine mesh sieve with a layer of cheesecloth. Return liquid to pot and stir in garlic paste. Continue to cook until reduced by half again, approximately 6 minutes. Add clam juice and cook over high heat until reduced by half again.

Meanwhile, boil generously salted water and cook pasta two minutes less than recommended on box. Drain pasta, reserving a cup or two of pasta water.

Whisk the butter into the reduced (hopefully thickening) sauce. Add pasta to the sauce to complete cooking, adding reserved pasta water if needed. Full disclosure: I added some grated Parmigiana cheese even though serving cheese with seafood is taboo in Italy apparently. However, I wanted a creamier consistency so I threw caution to the wind. I’m nuts, right? Stir in chopped parsley and clams. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and serve.

Roasted garlic

Lay garlic bulb on a sheet of aluminum foil. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. Wrap tightly, adding a second layer of foil. Roast at 375° until soft, approximately 20 minutes.

 

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