Monday, January 08, 2007

Holiday Food

I know. I am a bad, bad blogger.

Anyway, let me tell you about our holiday feasting.

I don't understand why some American families choose to make a turkey and all the trimmings after they've just gone through that rigamarole a month before. I like to mix it up, doing something different every year.

One Christmas, a few years back, we had a Christmas eve dinner for my dad and his girlfriend. I roasted two ducks, using Sally Schneider's method from A New Way to Cook, and served them Peking-style with hoisin sauce, scallion brushes, and tortillas instead of pancakes. Girlfriend took one look at my hard work and said, "I don't eat duck." Dad replied, "you'll eat this duck," and put some on her plate. I was mortified. I had only met this woman once before, and she was not making any great impressions on me.

After that fiasco, I decided that if my dinner guests were going to be ungrateful, they'd get Chinese food. Keeping me out of the kitchen didn't necessarily make things more convenient, however. Before Dad and B. get to my house, they spend the afternoon at her brother's. When they are leaving that party, Dad calls to let me know their ETA and what they want to eat. I immediately call the restaurant and place the order. Luckily, they deliver, and if I'm really lucky, the food will arrive after Dad and B. arrive so it will be hot when we eat.

Last year, they pulled a new stunt - they arrived at 6 p.m. and had to leave at 8 p.m. so they could get to 9 o'clock church service. So my brother and I got a 2-hour eat-and-run drive-by. (Yes, still bitter.)

This year, I decided I wasn't going to have that. I threw a mini-party starting at 4 and ending whenever. So when Dad and B. arrived, there were people at the house, and when they left 2 hours later, there were still people around. It felt more festive, that's for sure. It also allowed me to see some of my friends and exchange gifts with them at holiday time rather than two or three weeks later, which is the norm.

So enough bellyaching about the situation - what did I cook?

I thought that pork bbq would be popular and easy to make for the party, and as I had invited a number of vegetarians, mac and cheese would be a hearty accompaniment/main dish. And since I never make the same Christmas dinner twice, I chose short ribs for this year's feast. Christmas Day's guests include my brother (I see a lot of him over the holidays - a good thing), my Mother-in-law, and my Brother-in-law. They are not picky eaters.

I like to cook things in advance, if possible, so I can spend time with my guests and less time slaving over a hot stove. The Friday before Christmas was our annual cookie-baking day - fortuitous timing, as I planned to serve cookies for dessert both days. My brother came over, armed with pound of butter and a carton of milk, and we commenced to baking multiple varieties of crispy goodness: chocolate chips, snickerdoodles, oatmeal cookies with either toffee chips or cinnamon chips, chocolate chocolate chip cookies, and almond macaroons. It's been several weeks, my brother took many pounds of cookies home with him, and Neal and I have been eating them every night, but we still have cookies left.

The Saturday before Christmas was Meat Day. I decided to prepare the short ribs well in advance, since it's such a fatty dish. Several days in the fridge allowed the flavors to mellow and a inch or so of fat to come to the surface to be skimmed.

While the short ribs (David Chang of Momofuku Noodle Bar's recipe) simmered on top of the stove, many pounds of boneless pork country ribs braised in the oven until extremely tender. Pre-party prep involved shredding the meat, dressing it with a jar of Bone Suckin' Sauce, and making a pot of Alton Brown's Stove-Top Mac-n-Cheese. And Christmas day meal prep involved skimming, reheating, and potato mashing. Neal also made some sauteed radishes. (Don't knock 'em until you try 'em.)_

I had prepared enough food for an army, expecting folks to have big appetites, but got stuck with lots of leftovers. Well, I can't say "stuck" - we made good use of them and didn't have to cook anything from scratch all week. Pulled pork nachos, anyone?

New Year's Eve
Usually for NYE, Neal and I go out for a nice multi-course dinner. Because it fell on a Sunday this year, and Sunday means football, we opted to stay home and cook dinner for ourselves. I had momentarily toyed with the idea of ordering a lobe of foie from Hudson Valley, but decided we should hit Ceriello's for a dry-aged 2lb sirloin steak. I made a kickass sauce with mushrooms, onions, a cup of the Cabernet that we were going to drink with the meal (thanks, Kate! It was delish!) and heavy cream, and some bleu cheese butter for topping the meat. We also had baked potatoes and asparagus. I'd never had dry-aged meat before, and it was delicious - far better than the usual tasteless grocery-store fodder, with a decadently rich, almost buttery flavor.

The steak was so big, we had four meals from it. And it was yummy every time.

Now, I'm afraid, it's time to diet. Happy New Year!