Every year, I host one holiday party: The Feast of the Seven Fishes, an Italian tradition that we celebrate on Christmas eve. We invite friends and family, and I’ve always considered it a come-all sort of thing. The more the merrier. I think this year’s count is 10 people, it fluctuates. I don’t remember exactly when I started the tradition, but it’s been at least 7 years.
It’s served in four courses. I am the only cook (though I do outsource my sushi to our local Asian food place). Everything on this menu is made fresh, except for the crab legs because they’re generally not available fresh. My husband does setup, in-between cooking spasms cleaning, and entertaining of guests. I hide in the kitchen and cook until the 3rd course. We serve buffet-style now, with multiple small tables in the dining room so everyone can be comfortable and not get trapped.
Here’s this year’s menu:
So minus the sushi, and skipping desserts, that’s 16 dishes in 3 courses (17 if you count the butter, because yes I make that fresh from heavy cream and honey).
I’ve come to the conclusion that it takes a special sort of insanity to do this alone. It also takes a LOT OF COORDINATION. Like, down-to-the-minute coordination. The kind I’m sure professional chefs have oozing out of them after years of practice, but I’m just a humble housewife so I learn as I go along.
First things first? I start at the end point of serving the food, and count backwards to see when I have to start cooking each and every thing so the dishes are all done at the right time. Fish is very unforgiving when it comes to overcooking, it can’t be made ahead and reheated if you want the best flavor and texture. I’ve done IT project management as a part of my job, I currently work a lot with Microsoft Project creating Gantt charts and project plans. I used MS Project to come up with this schedule, which allows me to work backwards from each course to find the optimal time to cook each item. Then I sort the rows by start time to get that to-the-minute what’s next list.
Here’s a bigger view of the schedule.
|morning||Thu 12/24/15 7:00 AM||435 mins||Thu 12/24/15 2:15 PM|
|prep bread||Thu 12/24/15 7:00 AM||10 mins||Thu 12/24/15 7:10 AM|
|prep baked bass & catfish||Thu 12/24/15 7:10 AM||30 mins||Thu 12/24/15 7:40 AM|
|prep roasted peppers||Thu 12/24/15 7:40 AM||15 mins||Thu 12/24/15 7:55 AM|
|prep salmon||Thu 12/24/15 7:55 AM||40 mins||Thu 12/24/15 8:35 AM|
|prep snapper||Thu 12/24/15 8:35 AM||30 mins||Thu 12/24/15 9:05 AM|
|prep veggies (grean beans, zucchini)||Thu 12/24/15 9:05 AM||20 mins||Thu 12/24/15 9:25 AM|
|cook clam sauce (until clams)||Thu 12/24/15 9:25 AM||40 mins||Thu 12/24/15 10:05 AM|
|clean clams/prep clams||Thu 12/24/15 10:05 AM||1 hr||Thu 12/24/15 11:05 AM|
|set up crab legs||Thu 12/24/15 11:05 AM||10 mins||Thu 12/24/15 11:15 AM|
|prep baby potatoes and par-cook||Thu 12/24/15 11:15 AM||35 mins||Thu 12/24/15 11:50 AM|
|cook rice||Thu 12/24/15 11:50 AM||30 mins||Thu 12/24/15 12:20 PM|
|call for sushi||Thu 12/24/15 12:20 PM||15 mins||Thu 12/24/15 12:35 PM|
|prep grill||Thu 12/24/15 12:35 PM||30 mins||Thu 12/24/15 1:05 PM|
|get dressed||Thu 12/24/15 1:05 PM||30 mins||Thu 12/24/15 1:35 PM|
|Dinner Blitz||Thu 12/24/15 3:48 PM||72 mins||Thu 12/24/15 5:00 PM|
|preheat top oven 425, bottom 200||Thu 12/24/15 3:48 PM||27 mins||Thu 12/24/15 4:15 PM|
|broil clams casino||Thu 12/24/15 3:53 PM||7 mins||Thu 12/24/15 4:00 PM|
|Microwave crab legs||Thu 12/24/15 3:55 PM||5 mins||Thu 12/24/15 4:00 PM|
|melt butter||Thu 12/24/15 3:57 PM||3 mins||Thu 12/24/15 4:00 PM|
|boil water for linguine||Thu 12/24/15 3:57 PM||15 mins||Thu 12/24/15 4:12 PM|
|Serve Course 1||Thu 12/24/15 4:00 PM||5 mins||Thu 12/24/15 4:05 PM|
|sautee green beans||Thu 12/24/15 4:05 PM||10 mins||Thu 12/24/15 4:15 PM|
|put rice in warmer||Thu 12/24/15 4:08 PM||2 mins||Thu 12/24/15 4:10 PM|
|sautee spinach||Thu 12/24/15 4:10 PM||5 mins||Thu 12/24/15 4:15 PM|
|boil linguine noodles||Thu 12/24/15 4:12 PM||13 mins||Thu 12/24/15 4:25 PM|
|light grill||Thu 12/24/15 4:13 PM||5 mins||Thu 12/24/15 4:18 PM|
|bake fennel 425||Thu 12/24/15 4:15 PM||40 mins||Thu 12/24/15 4:55 PM|
|reheat clam sauce||Thu 12/24/15 4:15 PM||15 mins||Thu 12/24/15 4:30 PM|
|stir fry zucchini||Thu 12/24/15 4:18 PM||12 mins||Thu 12/24/15 4:30 PM|
|roast potatoes 425||Thu 12/24/15 4:20 PM||35 mins||Thu 12/24/15 4:55 PM|
|cook cod and bean casserole||Thu 12/24/15 4:25 PM||30 mins||Thu 12/24/15 4:55 PM|
|Serve Course 2||Thu 12/24/15 4:25 PM||5 mins||Thu 12/24/15 4:30 PM|
|grill fish||Thu 12/24/15 4:35 PM||20 mins||Thu 12/24/15 4:55 PM|
|sautee catfish||Thu 12/24/15 4:40 PM||15 mins||Thu 12/24/15 4:55 PM|
|bake bass 425||Thu 12/24/15 4:43 PM||12 mins||Thu 12/24/15 4:55 PM|
|Serve Course 3||Thu 12/24/15 4:55 PM||5 mins||Thu 12/24/15 5:00 PM|
Before I get to the big day, I make sure to do mise en place the day before. All ingredients are measured, chopped, and made ready for the cooking rush. Oh how I love mise en place. I also make the butter and any desserts the day before, after I get home from the big shopping trip to the Fish Market->Italian Market->Dairy->Grocery Store.
The morning consists of prep work. Things that couldn’t be chopped the day before, breading and prepping dishes so they are ready to go into the oven or pan. Then I have about two hours before the big cooking blitz begins.
My refrigerator has with 8 magnetic timers stuck on it, to time individual dishes. I use each timer to hold a recipe of the dish it’s timing, so that I know what’s what. Will things go awry and back up? Of course. But it all sort of works out somehow.
At the end of it all, I know I did a good job, everyone always raves about the food and comes back next year, and after dessert I ease my aching back onto the couch and last year ended up falling asleep under the pile of dog and cat, who were happy to get mommy back after a couple days of crazy.