Holiday Entertaining


Traditional ethnic buffets
for entertaining family and friends

By Danielle Pitanello

Italian – One of the most celebrated Christmas Eve traditions is the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Everyone does their Italian Seven Fishes Christmas Eve differently.  As a child I would have flipped over backwards if my traditional Neapolitan family ever served stuffed clams or shrimp cocktail on Christmas Eve but some of my Italian friends’ families did just that.  Now years later and a few generations from my original American relatives arriving from Italy, I serve shrimp and leave out the eel entrée as well as fried smelts and Baccalà, dry salted cod fish. My calamari now is in a seafood salad served cold instead of sitting in a pot of Sunday sauce as we enjoyed years ago.

While that may have been sacrilege then, it is survival now to continue any version of the seven fishes, which I think is important. The generations certainly have changed their likes and dislikes at the Christmas Eve celebration. We have adopted some modern ideas to keep the tradition of the seven fishes alive: shrimp cocktail, salad with tuna, a cold seafood salad containing several types of fish as well as stuffed clams, seafood risotto or a grand bowl of seafood pasta. We often start our meals with some homemade thin crust pizza with small baby shrimp and garlic and olive oil! There are no hard-and-fast rules about the preparation of the Feast of the Seven Fishes and the buffet table remains lively and still traditional. Recipe below.

How the Italian tradition started is as blurry as the types of foods to put on the table. I heard while traveling in Sicily that the tradition began there as the tonnarotti (tuna fishing crews) would come home to their seaside villages to celebrate Vigilia di Natale. This celebration commemorates the wait of Vigilia di Natale, the midnight birth of the baby Jesus. I believe it is reasonable to think the tradition had something to do with a no-meat fast as well.

French – You can host longer dinners known as Réveillon, which is hosted on Christmas Eve in France. The buffets/dinners go on for hours. Wine flows to commemorate the coming birth. The French table would hold foie gras and escargot and other French delicacies.  Nothing is spared in costs or efforts on this classic buffet table. Bu che de Noe l is a perfect and challenging traditional dessert to serve at meals end.

Polish – Seafood is a main component of the Christmas Eve meal across Poland, as well, and many of the traditions have traveled to the USA with an enormous banquet called Wigilia. Many Polish families abstained from eating meats. Carp is a popular traditional Christmas Eve fish. Matjas herring, poppy seed cakes (makowiec), dried fruit compote and other delicacies can grace a traditional buffet table. Perogi is filled and cabbage is stuffed for hearty entrées centering the buffet table. Great recipes can be found in archives of September of 2015;

Mexican – In Mexico at midnight on “Noche Buena (Christmas Eve),” the birth of Christ is proclaimed with fireworks, the ringing of church bells and the blowing of whistles. After the final Posada procession, the people surge into the churches to attend the Mass of the Rooster or “Misa de Gallo.” The families then head home for an exotic Christmas feast of dishes like chiles rellenos, menudo or roast pig or turkey, along with hot fruit or cider punches and other spirits. On Christmas Eve, Mexicans also nosh on traditional stews and fish dishes, with spicy tamales (corn dough pastries) and sweet fritters called buñuelos.

Germany -Roast goose and red cabbage are the kings of the Christmas Eve and Christmas table. Legend has it that those who do not dine well on Christmas Eve will be haunted by demons–so there’s no excuse not to squeeze in that extra slice of stollen. Recipe below.

Christmas Eve seafood salad


1/2 cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 tbsp chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
1 tsp chopped fresh marjoram leaves
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 ounces sea scallops
12 ounces squid, bodies only
3 ounces arugula leaves (about 6 cups)
2 carrots, peeled, cut into thin strips
1/2 yellow bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1 (15-ounce) can white beans (cannellini), drained, rinsed


• Heat the oil in a heavy medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add the garlic, let it cook for 1 to 2 minutes and then add the herbs and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Cool to room temperature. Whisk in the lemon juice. Salt and pepper, to taste.
• Wash and dry scallops and squid blotting with paper, grill on BBQ or stove, the scallops and squid until just cooked through, turning once, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Cut the squid crosswise into 1/4-inch-wide rings if not using packaged rings.
• Combine the arugula, carrots, bell peppers, and cannellini beans in a large bowl. Toss with 1/2 cup of the dressing to coat. Top with cooled seafood and toss again. Serve on platter or in bowl.

Stollen with candied fruit

1 cup mixed candied fruit
1 cup raisins
3 tbls dark rum or orange juice

For the Sponge:
1 scant tbls or 1 (1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (about 110 F)
2/3 cup milk
1 tsp honey
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

For the Dough:
1/3 cup honey
1 large egg, beaten
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 tbls finely grated lemon zest
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground mace
1/2 cup chopped almonds, toasted
3 to 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Oil, for coating bowl

For the Filling:
2 tsp unsalted butter, melted
2 tsp ground cinnamon
3 tbls granulated sugar

For the Topping:
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar

• Prepare the fruit first by combining the mixed fruit, raisins, and rum. Cover and set aside.
• In a large bowl, sprinkle the yeast in the water to soften. Heat the milk to 110 F and add it to the yeast along with the honey and 1 cup flour. Cover the sponge with plastic wrap and let rise until light and full of bubbles, about 30 minutes.
• Add the fruit mixture, honey, egg, butter, zest, salt, mace, almonds, and 2 cups of the flour to the sponge. Beat vigorously for 2 minutes. Gradually add the remaining flour 1/4 cup at a time, until the dough begins to pull away from the side of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Knead, adding flour a little at a time, until the dough is smooth and elastic.
• In the mixer bowl, add the fruit mixture, honey, egg, butter, zest, salt, mace, almonds, and 2 cups of the flour to the sponge. Using the paddle, beat the mixture on medium low speed for 2 minutes. Gradually add the remaining flour 1/4 cup at a time until the dough begins to pull away from the side of the bowl. Change to the dough hook. Continue to add flour 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough just begins to clean the bowl. Knead 4 to 5 minutes on medium-low.
• Put the dough in an oiled bowl and turn to coat the entire ball of dough with oil. Cover with a tightly woven towel and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
• About 10 minutes before baking, preheat oven to 375 F.
• Turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled work surface. For 1 large loaf, roll the dough into a 9 by 13-inch oval. For 2 loaves, divided the dough in half and roll each half into a 7 by 9-inch oval. Brush the melted butter over the top of the oval(s). Combine the cinnamon and granulated sugar and sprinkle over one lengthwise half of the oval(s). Fold the dough in half lengthwise and carefully lift the bread(s) onto a parchment-lined or well-greased baking sheet. Press lightly on the folded side to help the loaf keep its shape during rising and baking.
• Cover with a tightly woven towel and let rise for 45 minutes.
• Bake for 25 minutes until the internal temperature of the bread reaches 190 F. Immediately remove from the baking sheet and place on a rack to cool. Sprinkle heavily with confectioners’ sugar.

Plan a ‘bacteria–free buffet’ 
with these helpful tips from the FDA
If you’re planning a buffet at home and are not sure how quickly the food will be eaten, keep buffet serving portions small.
 Prepare a number of small platters and dishes ahead of time, and replace the serving dish with the fresh ones throughout the party.
 Store cold back–up dishes in the refrigerator or keep hot dishes in the oven set at 200°F to 250°F prior to serving. This way, the late-arriving guests can enjoy the same appetizing arrangements as the early arrivals.
Take temperatures
Hot foods should be kept at an internal temperature of 140°F or warmer.
• Use a food thermometer to check.
• Serve or keep food hot in chafing dishes, slow cookers, and warming trays.
• Be aware that some warmers only hold food at 110°F to 120°F, so check the product label to make sure your warmer has the capability to hold foods at 140°F or warmer. This is the temperature that’s required to keep bacteria at bay!
Chill out
Cold foods should be kept at 40°F or colder.
• Keep cold foods refrigerated until serving time.
• If food is going to stay out on the buffet table longer than two hours, place plates of cold food on ice to retain the chill.
Keep it fresh
Close up a fresh plate of appetizers.
• Don’t add new food to an already-filled serving dish.
• Instead, replace nearly-empty serving dishes with freshly-filled ones.
• Be aware that during the course of the party, bacteria from people’s hands can contaminate the food. Plus, bacteria can multiply at room temperature.
Watch the clock 
Remember the two-hour rule:
•Discard any perishables left out at room temperature for more than two hours, unless you’re keeping it hot or cold.
• If the buffet is held in a place where the temperature is above 90°F, the safe-holding time is reduced to one hour.
• Watch the clock with leftovers, too! Whether you’re sending  “doggie bags” home with guests or are saving them for yourself, leftovers  should be refrigerated as soon as guests arrive home and/or within two hours!

Make your buffet stand out
By Danielle Pitanello • Recipes By Food Editor – Michele Kristensen

The modern holiday buffet table has many things but none of them is jello and nothing appears wilted. Today our spreads are much different and often following a trend or theme that can extend into various rooms of the house and certainly different tables, each in varying heights and styles.
Let’s remember the simplicity of setting a buffet table, instead of serving directly to a table, that the work is done beforehand. Guests will serve themselves. Choosing what to serve is the key and setting beautifully is the next step.
Tags, tags, tags
Plates set with some different types of salts is fun.  Truffle salt, Himalayan salt, salts of various colors all noted with a small tag and description will only take a small bit of time and allow each plate to be flavored individually. Various styles of vinegars and oils have the same effect on salads and other items on the table. Sure, it’s a buffet but no two items will taste the same.
Remember that people think with their eyes as well as their stomach. Think of that old saying: My eyes were bigger than my stomach!  So embellish the table in-between the food items with flowers, and then use containers of all materials like wood bowls and trays, some crystal and wonderful artisan clay. If any of the items were made locally, note that as well on your tags.
Shop for cute
Think small and cute with everything you buy for the celebration. Run to your local dollar store or Christmas Tree Shop and stock up on little baskets for holding crackers. Fry baskets make excellent holders, too. The old-fashion ice cream sundae cones in ceramic are perfect for olives and small pickles and look amazing.  Remember that as people eat, the tables can and will get messy fast.  Small and easy to grab and refill is the way to prevent that not so good look.
Borrow, beg and buy cake pedestals
When it comes to deserts, there is nothing like a display at various levels.  Small cakes, cookies and other nuggets of bliss can be flaunted and tempt the most determined dieters (not that you want to, except perhaps the skinniest of your guests whose waist line you crave).
Try a candy display as your desert table.  What could be easier than that?  Buy candy from different eras, styles and colors.  The shopping will be fun on this one and your guests will love your choices. Old-fashion ribbon candy on a low plate and perhaps Good & Plenty sitting high on pink cake pedestal.  There are so many choices available. Candy can be grabbed during the entire party and no mess–just keep refilling.
Real or disposable?
There are so many excellent products available now that look fantastic.  Don’t be afraid to break your mother’s rule about NO DISPOSAL plates or table ware. Small vases or holiday pots are great for holding the forks, knives and spoons.
Oh yea, the food
Again, think small and refillable.  Small everything!  Little sliders, bite size puffs, little quiches and so on….
Salad served cold and warm in the containers we mentioned earlier with plenty in various shapes and varieties.  Just keep them small and refillable at a glance’s notice.

Ham and cheese sliders

12 Hawaiian Original Rolls
12 slices of baked ham
6 slices of Swiss cheese
1 stick butter
1 small shallot, minced
2 tablespoons dijon mustard
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
poppy seeds, optional
• Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9 x13 baking dish, set aside.
• Place a slice of ham and a ½ slice of Swiss cheese inside of each roll. Close rolls and place them into baking dish. Place sliders close together. Set aside.
• In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add shallot and cook for 1 minute. Remove from heat and add
mustard, brown sugar, worcestershire sauce and salt. Stir to combine.
• Pour sauce evenly over all of the
sandwiches. Sprinkle tops with poppy seeds. Cover with foil and bake for 12 minutes, or until cheese is melted. Uncover and cook for 2 additional

minutes. Serve immediately!

Antipasto skewer

Yields: 16 – 20 small skewers
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes Marinated (see recipe below)
1 cup fresh mozzarella balls
¼ lb salami
¼ lb pepperoni
¾ cup calamata olives pitted
Wooden skewers
½ package of cooked cheese tortellini (optional)
½ cup good extra Virgin olive oil
2 Tbls. balsamic vineager
1 tbls. finely chopped shallots
1 Tbls. fresh basil chopped
salt and pepper
• Make marinade and add tomatoes
and mozzarella.
• If using tortellini cook according to directions cool and add to marinade.
• Let sit a couple hours.
• Then asssemble



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