traditions

New Year’s Eve

How many years makes a tradition? I’m thinking 3. That’s because this was our third year having Baked Alaska with penguins on top for dessert on New Year’s Eve.

This year’s celebration was pretty low key. We were less exhausted than last year but not quite as ambitious as the year before.

We had dinner and a bottle of bubbly around 6:00. Shane made pizza, and Rose and I made  a mini Baked Alaska (recipe here) with penguins and Sno-Caps on top. We filled it with Dulce de Leche ice cream because there are several pints of it in our freezer. As it turns out, Dulce de Leche compliments the flavor of meringue just perfectly.

Shane went to bed early with the baby (and got up with him the next morning). Rose and I stayed up until midnight (but not a moment later) playing games and discussing the possibility of adult diaper-wearing among Times Square revelers, and Taylor Swift’s ability to tolerate the cold.

And that wraps up 2014 for us.

Wishing you many happy dinners in the new year. xo

 

Christmas 2014!

Note: click on photos for a larger view, and click here if you’re wondering who all these people are.

We only had 20 people this year, which made it a relatively quiet Christmas dinner. Ha ha. (Read about previous Christmases here)

Really, 20 made for a more manageable group, but I wouldn’t say it was any less chaotic than usual. My mom wouldn’t have it any other way.

Dinner started with Crostini and three different toppings. A traditional fresh tomato topping called Piccanti, from the New Basics Cookbook. Muhammara, a Syrian spread made with toasted walnuts, roasted red peppers, tomato paste and a whole bunch of other yummy stuff. And a green topping, made with lima beans, mint and lime.

After crostini we had the Big Prize drawing for our annual Christmas Lottery. Christmas Lottery is not a Yankee Swap or a Secret Santa, like many think. It’s literally a lottery run by Shane, the kids and I.

There are two prizes, the Big Prize, which is the lesser prize, and the Grand Prize which is a big deal. Some of the Grand Prize gifts over the years have been: a whole prosciutto, a magnum of Jameson whiskey, an industrial bubble machine, Bacon of the Month Club, half a wheel of Parmesan cheese, you get the picture.

The Big Prize is a (much) lesser gift, that hints somehow at what the Grand Prize will be. This year the Big Prize was a $10 gift card for Dunkin’ Donuts. Can you guess what the Grand Prize was?

The main course followed the first segment of Christmas Lottery. We had pork, which I can’t tell you much about except that many people said it was the best pork ever.

Accompaniments were my late uncle Jerry’s stuffed peppers, made by his son Josh, buttery mashed potatoes by Shane, and later, a fennel and orange salad with spinach.

I loved that this meal followed my 5-dish rule, which is that no meal needs more than 5 different dishes. If you have more, you can’t really absorb all of the taste information and you recall it as a possibly delicious but generally un-remarkable “meal blur.”

(Note: there may or may not be some scientific evidence behind this theory, and dessert is excluded from the rule.)

The Grand Prize drawing for Christmas Lottery 2014 followed the main course. The lottery was won by Wayne who claimed the uncharacteristically un-foodie prize of a “Five Star Restaurant Fun Pack,” which is a pack of 5 chain restaurant gift cards including Olive Garden, Ninety-Nine, Outback, TGI Fridays and we’ve already forgotten the last.

Because my sister did not arrive early enough to make her Buche de Noel, Iris’ Kourabiethes and André’s Molases Chip Cookies were joined on the dessert table by a bunch of green-frosted donuts (from Dunkin’s!)

And that’s it, until brunch the next day (see last photo). Merry Christmas!

 

Post-Thanksgiving polpette

Dad_Fries_Polpette_IMG_3011Traditionally, my dad and Shane make Polpette Frite (fried meatballs) on the day after Thanksgiving. This year, my dad couldn’t make it to NYC due to his recent knee surgery, so the Polpette had to wait until Saturday.

They were just as well-received as ever. Rose dove in and took three straight away. We froze the rest for an easy weeknight meal. Sid and I stuck with pasta and red sauce.RoseDivesIn_IMG_3014Polpette_IMG_3013

 

 

New Year’s Sweet

Baked_Alaska_IMG_2612This New Year’s Eve was nothing like last year’s. The baby and I snuggled off to bed at 9:00. Shane and Rose stayed up until midnight playing cards, Spot It and who knows what else.

At midnight they went up to the roof—so as not to wake us up—and set off some questionable poppers that my sister bought from a street vendor. I don’t know the details, but word is the poppers were kind of scary.

There was no elaborate meal, just a simple lasagna, roasted asparagus and a bottle of bubbly that we couldn’t finish. As I said, nothing like last year… except for the dessert.

Rather than a recap of this tumultuous, but ultimately rewarding year, I’ll leave you with this, New Year’s Cake (aka Baked Alaska). Something sweet for the New Year, and a tradition to carry on. Wishing you all the sweetest 2014, I think we’re off to a good start.

• New Year’s Cake (aka Baked Alaska) •
original recipe from Saveur Magazine

For the filling and cake:
2 pints strawberry ice cream, slightly softened (you can use whatever flavors you want, of course)
Unsalted butter, for pan
½ cup cake flour, plus more for pan (cake flour is good but not essential, it will come out fine if you use all purpose)
¼ tsp. kosher salt
½ cup sugar
3 eggs
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
½ tsp. grated lemon zest

For the meringue:
¼ tsp. cream of tartar
4 egg whites
½ cup sugar

For topping:
Toy penguins (optional, and yes, we know penguins don’t really live in Alaska – you can use caribou or polar bears if you prefer)

Instructions:
1. For the filling: Line a 7″-diameter bowl with a 15″ piece of plastic wrap, allowing excess to hang over rim of bowl. Pack ice cream into bowl, smoothing top, and freeze until solid, at least 4 hours.

2. For the cake: Heat oven to 325°. Grease and flour an 8″ round cake pan; set aside. Whisk together flour and salt in a bowl; set aside. Beat sugar and eggs in a bowl on medium-high speed of a hand mixer until tripled in volume, about 5 minutes. Stir in juice and zest; fold in flour mixture. Pour into prepared pan; bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool completely, invert onto a rack, and set aside.

3. For the meringue: Heat oven to 450°. Place cream of tartar and egg whites in a large bowl; beat on medium speed of a hand mixer until soft peaks form, about 1 minute. Add sugar, and beat until stiff but not dry peaks form, about 2-5 minutes.

4. To serve, place cake on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Invert ice cream onto cake and peel off plastic. Cover ice cream and cake with meringue. Bake until meringue begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Using 2 metal spatulas, transfer to a cake plate and serve immediately.
Baked_Alaska2_IMG_2612

Easter Saturday!

(click on the photos for slide show view, and description)

For the past several years, our family has celebrated Easter on Saturday instead of Sunday. We’re not particularly religious. When it occurred to us that Saturday might be a more convenient day to celebrate than Sunday, there were no objections. It even resolved scheduling conflicts for the Jews in our family who are married to Easter-observing gentiles.

Before dinner, which is more of a late-lunch, my aunt Gail makes Hot Cross Buns with the kids (see recipe below). The little ones adore rolling the dough and frosting the buns once they’re cooked. Then we have an egg hunt, this year there were 107 eggs to find!

Our tradition, for as long as I can remember, has been to have savory pies for Easter. Geraldine Ferraro’s Easter Pie, which is filled with ricotta cheese & Italian sausage, is a staple. My dad makes the pies with the help from my aunt Gail (or vice-versa). He says to use two pounds of sausage instead of one, it’s much better that way.

The Torta Verde was sorely missed this year. Instead, we had lamb pies which were reported to be underwhelming, but were very pretty, and disappeared anyhow.

To up the meat ante, there were Garlicky Pork Burgers with Red Wine, Prunes & Rosemary, from this recipe, but prepared as burgers instead of sausages, and made in the oven. Everyone raved about them, even the kids.

The Escarole & White Bean Salad with Fennel & Gruyere (see my post about it here), and Cilantro, Celery & Almond Salad, were both excellent. My parent’s neighbor Peggy, made her famous Eggplant dish, which I don’t have the recipe for. We also had roasted Cubanelle pepers.

Dessert was an assortment of candy and cookies, Strawberry  Shortcake, and my favorite, a Three-Tier Candied-Pecan Cake with Brown-Butter Pears, from Martha Stewart. (Note: it doesn’t come out looking like the photo in the recipe but is utterly delicious.)

Happy early Easter everyone!

St. Patrick’s Day

St.Pats_IMG_6495My mom always made an all-green meal on St. Patricks Day. I’m pretty sure her objective was to annoy my dad. I like to keep up the tradition because it’s fun (and not really to annoy my husband, or my dad).

On the menu tonight: Spinach ravioli with pesto, a green salad with pea shoots (because they look a bit like shamrocks), green seltzer and Guiness.

We’re a goddamn mess

IMG_5940This morning at exactly 6:45, my daughter and husband simultaneously came down with a stomach virus. Just to make things extra-fun, I have another migraine.

When I was sick my mom always made me pastina soup. I do the same for my family, and since I had little energy to do much more, we all three ate pastina soup for dinner. What do you feed your family when they’re sick? Is it what your mom fed you?

 

Kourabiethes

Somehow I neglected to mention the delicious, melt-in-your-mouth Kourabiethes we have for dessert every year at Christmas. Iris has made them for as long as I can remember, and is now helped by her daughter Johanna. Christmas would not be the same without them.

Christmas

How do I even begin to tell you about Christmas? I think the easiest way is by captioning the photos below, which I’ve done (click on the photos for a larger, slide show view). You’ll also need some background, so here goes.

We’ve celebrated every year, for 30 or so years, at my parent’s house. There are usually between 26 and 30 guests for a sit-down dinner. It’s a production that takes many willing participants, and days to pull off. And it is all orchestrated by my mom, who I think is amazing (and a little bit crazy). I could never do what she does.

My mom keeps books in which she records every holiday meal she hosts, and other special events. The books go back more than a decade, probably two. In each, she notes the guest list, and (often inaccurate) count. She draws out the seating chart, how the tables were arranged and in which room. She records the menu, with illustrations. And finally she makes notes about how Christmas went that year.

The notes are extensive, she talks about the menu, serving and seating, what worked and what didn’t. But she also notes the emotional tone of the holiday, why we all felt good or didn’t. Who we missed, or who was at Christmas for the first time.

In 2000, I brought Shane to Christmas for the first time and we started the tradition of Christmas Lottery. It is not a yankee swap. Shane and I buy one very big gift (such as an entire prosciutto) and a smaller gift that hints at what the big gift will be. At dinner, between courses, we hold a lottery drawing, to see who will win the gifts. Most years, the lottery numbers are somehow worked into the table setting.

The lottery has become a much anticipated source of entertainment at dinner over the past decade plus. We make kind of a hammy production of it. Since she was two months old, we’ve been incorporating our daughter, Rose, into the performance. The Lottery provides a welcome break between courses, and helps to pace the meal.

With that I leave you with the captioned photos below (click on the photos for a larger, slide show view). Merry Christmas!

Christmas Eve

Our Christmas Eve tradition is to have a tree-decorating dinner party at my parents’ house. The dinner is buffet and much more casual than the sit-down for 30 or so, that we have on Christmas day.

Tonight we had veggies with a delicious miso dip from Whole Foods that I need to find out how to make because there isn’t a Whole Foods that’s really convenient to me. There were two types of chicken wings, spicy without seeds and not spicy, with seeds. And, my mom’s classic salad with Boston lettuce, fennel and her signature dressing.

The thing that really sealed the meal for me though, was the vegetarian chili. It was the most delicious I have ever had with sweet potato, black beans, roasted peppers, just the right amount of heat and no special vegetarian ingredient trying too hard to pretent to be meat. Mom, can you post a link to the recipe in the comments section?

After, we had an assortment of desserts brought by guests and pink sparkling wine.

Before bed, Rose put out snacks for Santa and the Reindeer and my sister Anna read an ancient copy of The Night Before Christmas, which she does every year, regardless of whether there are children present.