The Feast of Seven Fishes, or the Festa dei Sette Pesci, is the traditional dinner that many southern Italian and Italian-American families will sit down to this Christmas Eve. (It is also one of the few appropriate times to pluralize fish as fishes.)
The significance of the number seven reels in many different theories: Some families say it's for the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church, others say it's for the seven hills of Rome, and still others say it represents the days of creation or stands as a reminder of the seven deadly sins. Other families' traditions even allow for 10 or even 14 different aquatic dishes.
And just as the numeric explanations are allowed loose translations, so are the types of seafood served. The true meaning isn't in the number or kind you choose, but with whom you decide to share your feast.
This Christmas Eve, Alex Guarnaschelli, chef of Butter in New York City and Food Network star, encourages you to serve the humble sardine atop lightly fried cauliflower, an ode to her mother's Sicilian roots.
Fresh sardines - not the pungent, little canned guys - are delicious, inexpensive and sustainable, three wise choices for this holiday season.
Just in case you still have eggnog to spike or plums to sugar before the gang arrives, consider us Santa's little helpers.
We're sharing our time-tested Christmas tips and recipes, as well as plenty from chefs, hospitality experts, celebrities, hosts and home cooks we love. Our goal – sending you into Christmas with a jolly smile on your face, and seeing you emerge on December 26 with your sanity intact.
Here are a few helpful holiday posts that may make your holiday bright.
Ray Isle (@islewine on Twitter) is Food & Wine's executive wine editor. We trust his every cork pop and decant – and the man can sniff out a bargain to boot. Take it away, Ray.
Few issues in the world are truly black-and-white. Cats, for instance. Some people think they’re nice pets; some people think they’re furry little narcissists who’d happily dine on your face if there were ever a complete collapse of civilization due to a nuclear apocalypse. Ditto Elvis (meaning some people love his music, some think it’s awful. ...Not that he’d dine on your face. Though, honestly, if it were a zombie-based apocalypse, I suppose he might.)
But one thing that can be divided into simple, black-and-white categories is winter and holiday beers. Basically, there are the ones that taste like something your grandmother would bake, and the ones that don’t.
Not that I’m trying to tick off the grandmothers of the world. I don’t want a legion of rolling pin-wielding grannies chasing me down Fifth Avenue, bent on my demise. However, I do think that a beer should, at least in some way, taste like a beer instead of, say, a fruitcake.
Other people may not be as riled up by this topic as me. I accept that. Since it’s almost Christmas and there’s still time to buy a case of tasty winter ale, I don’t want the beer drinkers of the world to come back home with something that tastes like a fermented brown sugar-cinnamon Pop-Tart. So here are six that are actually very good:
Linnie Rawlinson is the Special Projects Editor in CNN's London bureau.
As the temperature falls and the leaves start to crackle under foot, British minds turn towards comfort food – and there’s nothing more comforting than a traditional suet pudding.
Suet, as in, beef fat?
In a dessert?
Why yes, actually.
And do you know what? It’s really rather good.
Sugar cookies in every seasonal shape - from snowflakes to Christmas trees, stars to Santa hats, snowmen to holly leaves - overcrowd the dessert table this time of year. Even Santa is crying "Uncle!" for a little variety by the time he reaches St. Louis.
This year, try adding a little New York attitude to the traditional cookie swap with black-and-white cookies, a staple of New York bakeries and deli counters.
More cake-like than cookie-like, this oversized sweet is downsized into a fantastically festive treat by pastry chef Stephanie Teekaram of Kutsher's Tribeca in, where else, New York City.
"Seinfeld" fans might remember the baked good being forever immortalized in the episode, "The Dinner Party."
"The thing about eating the black-and-white cookie, Elaine, is you want to get some black and some white in each bite," said Seinfeld. "Nothing mixes better than vanilla and chocolate, and yet, somehow racial harmony eludes us. If people would only look to the cookie all our problems would be solved."
In this season of good tidings, peace and goodwill toward all, harmony vis-à-vis a cookie is a welcome addition.
5@5 is a daily, food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.
When temperatures dip, Noah Dan, founder of Pitango Gelato, starts warming up guests with hot Italian sipping chocolate.
“It’s not like anything that comes from a powdered mix,” says Dan, who took inspiration for Pitango’s hot chocolate from the classic cafés of Turin, Italy. “True sipping chocolate must be dark, thick, intense, complex and, like all good things in life, bittersweet.”
The prep is simple, as the recipe contains only three basic ingredients: High-quality cocoa, milk and sugar. The real trick is finding the right cocoa powder because at this level of concentration any negative characteristics in the cocoa will be amplified, making the result less than stellar. Pitango uses organic cocoa from Costa Rica, which has a pure, intense chocolate flavor.
To make the cocoa, combine 2/3 cup cocoa and 1/3 cup sugar in a medium saucepan. Gradually add three cups of milk to the cocoa and sugar over low heat, mixing to avoid lumps. Be sure that the milk is heated but never reaches a boil. Continue mixing the chocolate on low heat until it is fully blended and thickens to a rich consistency.
Thick and potent, hot sipping chocolate is the equivalent of a coffee purist’s ultimate espresso. As such, this “adult” version of hot chocolate is meant to be savored slowly, in small portions (5 ounces or less). If the pure version doesn't cure what ails you, here are a few classic variations that use this hot chocolate as a base.
Recently, I shared a family story on Eatocracy about our attempt to get back our family tradition: the befana cookie. My Grandmother passed away before we learned how to make them. We took these special cookies for granted.
My brother tried many different combinations of ingredients. He researched with other members of the family, the internet, even conversations with cousins in Italy to try to make them Nonna's way. But, finally, he achieved cookie perfection.
I couldn't disclose the secret recipe for fear of Bernardini excommunication. It has now become a family legacy. When the story was re-posted this year, I quickly from the learned from the comment section that that legacy turned into a fatal flaw. So many people were very disgusted with me.
As a form of penance, I want to post another recipe that we do share throughout the year: sugar cookies.
Welcome to round six of Spouse vs. Spouse, a series in which a couple of married food freaks, CNN’s Brandon and Kristy Griggs, square off in their Atlanta kitchen for culinary bragging rights – and invite you to weigh in too.
In each installment, Kristy and Brandon each make a creative variation on the same ingredient or dish – everything from pasta to seafood to cocktails to desserts. We serve both versions anonymously to our friends, who then judge which one they like better and why. We walk you through our kitchen process, bring the husband-and-wife smack talk and, of course, keep score. We also share our recipes here so that you can try them for yourself.
Our theme: Holiday cocktails
The luscious, dark, tangy, sweet, and often intoxicating first bite of Christmas pudding is a special reminder of the holiday season for those of British origin. A bonus for those unfamiliar with the aged, steamed cake filled with fruit, liquor, and nuts is the opportunity to douse it with brandy butter and set it aflame.
It has been almost two years since I last laid eyes on a Christmas pudding, and in planning this year’s holiday festivities, I knew it had to be an integral part of our celebration. My husband, however - a Florida native with childhood memories of Jell-O brand products - couldn’t conceive of pudding as something special. Indeed, from an American perspective, tapioca and chocolate pudding is generally the domain of the cafeteria. I had to broaden his dessert horizons.