Month: October 2012

Thanksgiving Prep Part I

 

Thanksgiving is four weeks away, which means that if you are hosting Thanksgiving, it is the perfect time to start getting into the planning.

Thanksgiving does not have to be a stressful holiday, you just need to plan ahead.   I am hosting Thanksgiving this year for the 1st time in years.  It’s not a big gathering, I am thinking about 6-8 people.   And while there will be appetizers, the main course and dessert, it won’t be as elaborate as my mom’s Thanksgiving.    A Thanksgiving dinner at my mom’s could have up to 30 people ages 0-80+, which requires a big menu and a LOT of food.  Thanksgiving at my mom’s also included an extra bag of marshmallows since there may or may not have been a small fire during the final prep of the sweet potatoes with marshmallow topping.

I come from a big Italian Family (and after 6 hours of eating the family is even bigger-lol)

For those of you not fortunate enough to go to a hardcore Italian Thanksgiving Dinner, a little taste of the typical day.

12:30  Antipasto Course: This means about 6-8 different kinds of appetizers, cheeses, crackers and a veggie platter.  We never bother with salad during Thanksgiving dinner, since we figure it’s not worth wasting the stomach space on salad when there is so much tastiness around.

2:30 Pasta Course:  Nothing big, just a few pumpkin ravioli with brown butter-sage sauce, and fresh parmesan for everyone.  Really, it’s just a few ravioli, not ravioli dinner quantities of ravioli, and there may or may be some bread to go with the ravioli.

4:00 Dinner:  This is where we have the Turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, rolls and rye bread, stuffing, gravy, broccoli with garlic and lemon, and the green bean casserole with onion soup, which I think is disgusting, but someone eats.

5:30pm Dessert: We usually have several pies (apple, pumpkin, cherry), cookies, cakes and cannoli.

6:00pm Nuts, fennel and liquer: As a digestive to help the other food you’ve eaten digest.

The funny thing is that when we go to NY for Thanksgiving we usually stay at my Aunt’s house.  My aunt also hosts Thanksgiving, but she starts about an hour later, so by the time we get there, people are lingering over dessert.  So even though my Aunt is well aware of the eating marathon we just finished at my mom’s house, she always asks if we would like some dessert.  Thank god that both the kids can usually be counted on to have some more dessert, while the adults are debating if we will ever be able to eat again. (We usually are)

My Thanksgiving will be simpler. I am skipping the pasta course.  I will serve appetizers for lunch, because I am a finger food addict, and since I serve Thanksgiving close to dinner time, I still do need to provide lunch.   I also have a double oven, so I can cook the Turkey and still get stuff done while that Turkey hogs the oven.   Around 4pm I will serve Thanksgiving dinner, and then have a small variety of desserts.   And possibly a pitcher of crantinis which I will start drinking when the appetizer lunch goes out.

I will also not be serving salad.  I am not going to waste stomach room on lettuce when there is bourbon pecan sweet potatoes to eat.

So what am I doing this week?

1. Finalizing the guest list;

2. Planning the menu and writing up the shopping list.

3. Ordering my turkey from a near by farm.

4. Working on an initial schedule for prepping and cooking Thanksgiving Dinner.

If you are cooking Thanksgiving dinner, you NEED a schedule.  Trust me.  There are too many moving pieces, and you don’t want to sit down to dinner and realize you forgot the rolls to sop up the gravy, or the green beans, or you set fire to the marshmallow topping while prepping, set up the smoke alarm and wake the colicky baby who had finally decided to nap.

Since I am having a small Thanksgiving with mostly out-of-town guests, I do not have to think about the following:

1. Figuring out whether or not to use paper plates or rent plates  and silverware from a party place.  (No shame in the paper/plastic plates.  My mom always uses the really good ones and believe me, there are enough dishes to do as it is;

2. Decide who I will be delegating different parts of the meal to.

A word on delegation.  It’s usually a good idea.  There is a lot to Thanksgiving with its multiple sides and the fact that the Turkey can take up all your oven space.  However, you want to think carefully about who you are delegating to.   For example, don’t give the flaky person an important part of the meal to bring.  Also, if there is something that you really, really love, make it or buy it yourself so you know that it comes out exactly the way you want it to.

Come back next Thursday and I will tell you my menu, and what I am doing this week to prep for Thanksgiving.

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Why My Mom Should Have A Cooking Blog….And Yours Should Too!

My grandma Mary (so was my grandma Rose) was a wonderful cook, and while she made a wonderful Sunday gravy  (pasta sauce) and a tender pork roast, her most memorable dish was the Antipasto tray that she would do for family parties.  For those not Italian, a family party could be counted as any time you had more than eight related people in a room at one time, which could me a weekly event.

Anyway, I remember that  she would always save some olives for me to put on the tips of my fingers and then eat them of, after watching them glisten on my fingertips, like fake nails.  She would also have salami, tuna packed in olive oil, tomatoes, provolone cheese and…..  I can’t remember.  No one really can remember everything that was in the dish.  We also apparently never took a picture of the dish, and my grandmother passed away without telling us.

My mother is a fabulous cook.  Actually, all of the women in my family are fabulous cooks, and most of the men were not too bad either.  I remember my dad made awesome baked ziti.    I led such a sheltered existence that I didn’t realize that everyone did not know how to cook, until my parents took us to the house of one of their friends and we were served spaghetti with a sauce that tasted like ketchup and american cheese melted on the pasta. (Its been a few decades since I was served that and I still shudder at the memory)

But back to my mother.  Night after night she would put wonderful meals on the table.  In addition to pastas and sauce she would serve breaded fish fillets, chicken, pork chops in applesauce gravy,  homemade chicken soup, pot roast, sloppy joes in pita pockets and a hundred other tasty meals, that she would conjure up quickly each night.

Once I was married and cooking dinner, I asked her what cookbook she got her recipes from.  She looked at me, sniffed and said, “Recipes are for people who don’t know how to cook.”  And for her this is true.  She is an intuitive cook, using a recipe as a starting point for proportions perhaps, but usually went off on her own.

And this is wonderful, until you want to re-create that wonderful dish at home.  And she is a very generous and willing to give cooking advice.  However, when you ask her for the recipes, she starts with “Get a bunch of chicken cutlets, and the chicken broth in the can”  and you are sitting there thinking, ‘How many is a bunch, what sized can?  Low Sodium broth?  Will the world end if I use the stuff in the box?

And I find that after years of watching my mom cook has led me to be an intuitive cook.  I have cook books and recipes pinned and recipe cards, but unless I am baking, I very, very rarely make the recipe as it is written.  Sometimes its because I get distracted while cooking and I leave something out, but usually its because as I am tasting and smelling as I go, I adjust things.  Including recreating my favorite recipes of my mom’s even though they never taste exactly the same.

However, my love for intuitive cooking makes it difficult for people who like my cooking and want my recipes. I am happy to share, but when I started to discuss the process, I find that I give guidelines as opposed to specifics.   So, I now record the recipes on the blog and force myself to measure and time things.   I am hoping my kids appreciate this later on.

For me, a lot of my family memories are tied up with food.  I remember wonderful meals growing up.  And the funny thing, that even though a lot of popular Italian foods contain the same basic ingredients, I can’t pick up an Italian cookbook and recreate my family’s sauce.  Heck, my mom and her sister don’t even make the same sauce.

Now that I am getting older, I want to have those recipes to make for my children, and hopefully my grandchildren (way in the future) and have stories to tell them about my cousins, aunts, uncles and assorted relatives.  My mom’s bout with cancer 5 years ago, and the fact that several of my aunts on my father’s side are hitting their 80’s remind me that my time to collect these recipes/memories are slipping away.

Which is why my mom needs a blog.  This way her recipes are there for me and my brother, and the other people who love her food.

If you are reading this and it sounds familiar to you, then perhaps your mom should have a cooking blog too.

One thing I do have, and I am eternally grateful for is a video of my mom, aunt, daughter, cousin and brother all making Cavatelli.  My mom is the one in the purple apron.