We all know Fran Bigelow cooks up a small storm each day at her Fran's Chocolates factory on Capitol Hill, but that's just her day job. Remarkably, this cook by day is also a cook by night. While many of us would be inclined to spend the holidays out of the kitchen after spending each workday glued to it, Fran will have no such thing. For nearly 25 years, she's been cooking holiday dinners for family and friends in her Capitol Hill home. Some might call her a glutton for punishment, but her family just calls her Aunt Fran—the one who cooks up the killer holiday feasts. Recently, she took off the oven mitts long enough to tell us what holidays are like at her table, as well of some of her favorite local places to pick up holiday ingredients.
Seattle Weekly: What's on your holiday menu?
Fran Bigelow: I always love to start with champagne as aperitif and caviar as an appetizer. One of my oldest friends started the tradition of sending us caviar for the holidays, and now it's the appetizer of choice for these gatherings.
For Thanksgiving, it's always turkey with a special mushroom-and-olive stuffing I have done for years. A pur饠of sweet potatoes is always on the menu, along with mashed potatoes and a gravy made from a long-simmered turkey-and-chicken stock. For my husband's side of the family [there's up to 30 of them for dinner], a prime rib of beef is the traditional Christmas dinner, and that is what I prepare for them, along with Yorkshire pudding.
For my side of the family, it's traditional to do Christmas Eve dinner every year. This is usually a gathering of about 12, so we can fit around one large table in the dining room. Our usual Christmas Eve dinner is a beef tenderloin with a demiglaze sauce enhanced with black truffles. As the younger family members have grown up and gone to college, every single one of them has turned vegetarian. You can count on it. So we do have several vegetable dishes they can enjoy—enough to make a great meal in itself.
For about 25 years, we've had New Year's Eve dinner with our oldest friends. For this dinner, caviar and champagne start the evening, as usual. Then it is traditional for us to have cracked crab as midnight approaches.
And for dessert?
I rely on Fran's (2594 N.E. University Village, 206-528-9969, SEATTLE; 10305 N.E. 10th St., 425-453-1698, BELLEVUE) for the desserts. We always include a tray of chocolates, as this is a great way to end the meal over the last of your red wine, with a cup of coffee, or [with] a glass of port. This year, I'm serving our Cabernet Torte—a chocolate torte enhanced with a reduction of cabernet—making it a great way to finish the meal. I am also serving our peppermint ice cream with chocolate sauce.
When do you start the planning?
For all these events, I begin the preparations about a week before, gathering my list and making my stops.
Where do you do your shopping?
For nearly 20 years, I've placed my holiday orders at A and J Meats & Seafood (2401 Queen Anne Ave. N., 206-284-3885) on Queen Anne. They're a great family butcher—a wonderful family that's kept up quality and kept it going. I can always count on them. I also make a stop at Macrina Bakery (615 W. McGraw St., 206-283-5900, QUEEN ANNE; 2408 First Ave., 206-448-4032, BELLTOWN) for their breads and rolls, as well as the Queen Anne Thriftway (1908 Queen Anne Ave. N., 206-284-2530). I shop regularly at Whole Foods Market (1026 N.E. 64th St., 206-985-1500, ROOSEVELT) for all their wonderful produce as well as their seafood selection. I love to see all the excitement about food there—and the way they let you taste so much! I also shop at the Madison Market (1600 E. Madison, 206-329-1545, CAPITOL HILL) for their fresh seafood bar.
What's your philosophy on holiday entertaining?
It's an important time for us to slow down, reconnect, and enjoy our friends and family. I remember holidays from my youth, and the anticipation and excitement of the preparations. To set this mood, I use many of the china serving pieces that have been passed down to me. The house is always aglow with candlelight and lots of flowers to complete the atmosphere. I love to provide this setting and want to welcome family and friends to my home all year, but holidays become a special time—providing everyone with great memories. I think that's what the holidays are about—creating memories and giving people a reason to want to come home. Because I love to cook, this becomes my special gift to those I love.