Christmas With Giada, Contessa and Cranberries
Sunday, January 10, 2010
So, here's my new theory and maybe I'm wrong, maybe it's just my thankless household, but I feel like  Christmas is glorious and fun and just freakin spectacular for everyone but the Momma. 

Momma doesn't get the holidays off. Am I right?

It's why I'm cooking up a plan for next Christmas to go away. . .  far, far away.

Since no one had any interest in cleaning up the carcasses of empty boxes and shredded wrapping paper, there I was, alone, with my Hefty. The girls were all far too busy playing Wii Fit and trying on their new crap. And the Hubby was in the garage, his man shrine, doing . . . I have no idea what he does in there, getting away from the women-folk, is my suspicion. And I didn't want to sound like a shrieking shrew . . . well, at least on Christmas. And so, I finally gave up and cleaned up the house by my lonesome since the guests would be arriving sooner than I could say, "Come On, Crapheads! Clean up the Crapbucket! Merry Freakin' Christmas!" 

And speaking of crap:
Cute, right? It's a good thing, because these kids are poop machines. That's it. They eat, sleep, play and poop, poop, poop. 5 pooping machines. If they weren't this scrumptious, I'd have thrown them out long ago. 

And since their mom, Paris Hilton, isn't in to eating their poop anymore-- the only motherly thing she was doing for them-- it's up to me. Not, of course, eating it, just cleaning it up. 

I'm the mom, now. In the early dawn hours, when they're crying from their little penthouse the Hubby built, because they have to poop some more, Paris is there all snuggled up in the bed next to me with a look that says, "You're gettin' that, right?" And of course, I get up for an outside playtime and pre-dawn poop, while she stretches out onto my warm side of the bed.

I feel like one of those grandmas who ends up raising her daughter's kids, cause her daughter's all jacked up on meth, abandoning her kids with grandma for the meth. 

I don't think Paris is on meth . . . at least I'm not paying for any. She's just a crappy mom.

So, after I spent hours cleaning and picking up poop and laundering, laundering, laundering puppy towels and blankets, I started in on the dinner. Dinner and poop in the same sentence. It's my life nowadays.

The holidays are usually at my house. I'm not sure when I inherited the holiday dinners, but I've been the official holiday hostess for several years, now. It's one of the rare times I feel like a certified grown-up. There's something about cooking a turkey that just declares, "Hey, look at me! I'm cooking a turkey. I'm an adult!" 

But, here's the thing: I've never thought of myself as a good cook. 

I'm too intimidated by all the great cooks that surround me. My Hubby comes from a long line of Italian folk who have raised cooking and eating to an elegant, extraordinary art. They are people who hand-roll their pasta, know instinctively, thanks to their genes, how to perfectly season, how to whip up something from nothing, how to cook, really cook. My Hubby is just like his ancestors-- an amazing cook. It's hard to measure up to that. 

So, I do what I do and hope for passable. 

During the holidays, I take over the cooking and try my best with the help from some of my favorite food chefs. 

I think I do OK. I mean no one's ever died or vomited at the table or anything.

My menu looked delectable on paper.

We were having a perfectly, crispy skinned turkey and a ham from the Ham Store of the Long Lines. Thanks to my sister Jean, we had smashed potatoes made from the flavorful baby reds whipped up with some heavy cream and parmesano. 

We call it parmesano in our house in a really, obnoxious Italian accent, because The Hubby, our cook from the long line of Italians just like him, buys our parmesano from the Italian market where they hand grate it from the huge block as you stand there. So beautiful, that cheese. One of my kids came home one  night from dinner at a friend's with the amazing revelation, "Hey, they had the coolest thing! They had cheese in a green can!" My poor kids-they've been cheated out of cheese in a can. 

We had roasted butternut squash, Barefoot Contessa style. Like the Contessa, I love my veggies roasted. I love the nutty flavors that caramelizing brings out. BUT, what I love even more than roasted veggies, is pre-cut butternut squash. Oh, it is a joyful thing. Carving up cumbersome butternut squash is an odious task that creates quite a mess and takes up too much cooking time. This way your biggest labor is pulling off the plastic seal and prying open the lid. 

I tried a few new recipes, this year with nervous trepidation. I made a braised pear, stuffed with blue cheese, toasted pecans and cranberries in an apple cider, port and brown sugar sauce. I was a little leery about this one, since it sounded too labor-intensive and my right-hand girl, my sister Beth, stayed put in Chicago for Christmas. But, actually those gorgeous pears were about the easiest thing I did . . . except for opening the squash container.
                                                  Photo courtesy of St. Pete Times

I also did some roasted brussel sprouts mixed with pomegranate seeds. Now, if you're thinking, "Gross" trust me, you should try this one, Internet. Roasted Brussel sprouts have a nutty, almost popcorn-like taste to them. My Odawg the vegetarian, eats these things like they ARE popcorn.
                                               Photo courtesy of St. Pete Times

As I was whipping up my sprouts, I had every intention of using up my last pomegranate. My Julia had been eyeing up that delicate fruit all day. But, when it came time to carve up the pomegranate for its seeds, I thought about that scarlet juice that bleeds profusely and stains everything it touches. I thought about my Julia's little face as she eyed up that pomegranate, one of her favorite things in the whole world. I thought about my purty apron that would be forever marked in pomegranate juice. 

I gave Julia the fruit and I threw in some dried cranberries instead. The dish looked beautiful, so holidayish with it's green and red,  but I wasn't sure what people would think. Brussel Sprouts and Cranberries, not your average dish.

And then, there was my stuffing. 

My Hubby had asked me to change it up this year, add a little meat to the mix, since if it doesn't have meat, in his eyes, it's not worth opening your mouth for. 

I found a Giada De Laurentiis recipe filled with turkey sausage, (I changed mine to Italian pork) and bread, apples, onions, wine, olive oil, broth, parmesan cheese and jarred chestnuts, (In my neck of the woods, if you went to the market and asked for jarred chestnuts, they would frown at you with a quizzical stare, the same look you'd get if you were requesting roasted monkey poo. So I just substituted toasted walnuts) and yes--cranberries. 

I was at the grocery store, in the bakery, looking for some nice bread to use for stuffing, when I came across, wonder of all wonders . . . a one pound bag of toasted, pre-cut stuffing that the lovely bakery ladies had made up from some French baguettes. 

Merry Christmas to me! Amen! Amen!

I snatched that baby up and put it in my cart, mighty darn quick. 

Every woman in that store who spotted that bag in my cart, stopped to ask me where they could find such a heavenly thing. Even the lady manager who was bagging my groceries, said, "Oh My Gosh, we have this!" She summoned a bag boy to grab her a bag that very minute.

Pre-cut stuffing. That, my friends, is luxury. 

So, I made Giada's recipe, because Giada has never let me down. 

My mother-in-law doesn't trust Giada, since Giada's a double zero or whatever ridiculous petite size she is.
I think it's against the foodie rules or at least the rules of the Italian people, to be that tiny.

Although, my mother-in-law's one to talk. I'll never forget the first time I went to their house for a visit. I found her foodie savvy very intimidating. We were having hamburgers for lunch. And of course, they weren't like any burgers I was used to, the ones slathered in ketchup and mustard and maybe if you were getting fancy, some tomato. These were burgers accompanied with caramelized onions, portabella mushrooms sauteed in wine, applewood bacon and veiny blue cheese. At the last minute, she realized she didn't have any hamburger buns. I offered to go to the store to get out of her intimidating way, but she said with a dismissive wave of the hand, "No, don't be silly. I'll just make some."

Make the hamburger buns. 

And she did, punching up that dough, like it was nobody's business.

Because she is Italian, she's talking to you about dinner the very second you wake up in the morning. She has to, it's in her genes. She is all about the food, 24/7 and she's maybe a buck-ten, dripping wet. So, I don't think she has much room to talk about Giada. I think they both burn it off spending every second of their time in the kitchen, whipping up new treats.

So, back to my story.

I toiled and labored and was a nervous wreck over all the new dishes I was serving my guests. I also whined . . . quite a bit and I told my Hubby, under no circumstance, was I getting up after dinner to do dishes.

I hate that part.

Not the dish part, although I would so appreciate a good butler after eating a big meal with scores of people, but our American, puritanical habit of never being able to fully relax and snatching up the dishes the second the meal is done.

In Europe, they do it right. They do it right in so many ways in Europe, actually. The good food, good wine, the leisurely pace of life, the long vacations . . . but definitely not the foie gras.

There is nothing right about foie fras.

But, as for the meal, they linger afterwards, enjoying their wine, the company, the talk. I have often tried to convince folks after a meal to sit, sit and enjoy. But, somebody always starts picking up dishes and then everybody gets up and then I freakin get up, cause I feel so guilty. 

But, not this year. 

I am so utterly relieved to say my dinner was a phenomenal success. My new recipes were met with glowing reviews. Not just the, "That was a great meal." obligatory, kind of thing.


The folks gushed and raved and went on and on about brussel sprouts mixed with cranberries and pears crammed full of yum and stuffing that was devoured--both pans of it. 

And I sat there, so thrilled that my bounty of offerings was being gushed over, that perhaps, for the first time in my life, my Hubby's little Italian Nana and all of his other foodie ancestors were looking down from the heavens above and saying, "Molto Bene, Little Mick Girl!"  

As they gushed, I ducked my head and felt exactly like I had won Top Chef. For the first time in my life I felt like a cook, a real bona-fide cook.

And the best part of it all, we lingered. We drank wine and laughed and picked at the leftovers and did it just like you're supposed to, of course, without the foie gras. 

It was a grand, wonderful Christmas.

That doesn't change things. I'm still going away next year. We'll linger over a restaurant table instead of mine. I'm not THAT excited about my successful meal. Please. 

If you're ever interested, here is Giada's stuffing. 

Easy-peasy stuffed pears and Brussel sprouts with pomegranate seeds or if you don't want to look for a couple of days like you stabbed someone to death, dried cranberries, can be found here.

Enjoy or as we Italian chefs say, Mangia!

Today's Definite Download: "The Reeling" by Passion Pit. I love these guys so much. They're funky, the sort of music to cook to. 

I am always proud of my music appreciation, when I, the old lady, turn my teens onto some new music. My Odawg girl was not familiar with them when I mentioned them to her. Now I hear the chords of their songs drifting down from her upstairs dung room. 

She leaves today. I will miss the pounding beat coming from above. I will miss the mess. I will miss my bathroom light flicking on at 3:00 am as she looks for a nail polish or a mud mask or whatever she does during her vampire hours. I will miss my beautiful brown-eyed girl.


Shelley said...

Your food looks delish! I'm glad it all turned out so wonderfully. And I think I'm with your mother-in-law about Giada...never trust a skinny chef! She looks like she doesn't eat her own food, which makes me a little suspicious. :)

And I so feel you on the Christmas's like, it's up to the mom to make sure everyone has a fun and happy holiday. Cooking, shopping, wrapping, planning, cleaning...ugh. But yeah, I hope the rest of you...yes, you all sitting there enjoying the fruits of MY labor...are having a good time! I don't blame you for planning an escape next year. Sounds good to me!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like your dinner was a success! I love lingering at the table. Around here it's all about get up and get out so you don't have to clean. So I linger and then I clean. Enough wine makes the time pass. ;0)

My FIL calls Giada: Giada de Latatas. She's adorable.

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