Food for crowds

Here’s the thing: you want it to be delicious, you want there to be plenty of it, and you want it to be fresh and simple. If you don’t want all of that, think it through, and then you’ll want it.

Here are my suggestions: Mussel brodetto. This is lemony, garlicky mussels, without the panic of the pasta. Just smash about 4 garlic cloves for every 3 pounds of rinsed, scrubbed mussels. Stir the garlic around with a hefty spill of olive oil in a wide pan that has a cover. If you have a few sprigs of marjoram or oregano or parsley, add those as well. Now add a few super thinly sliced pieces of lemon, and 3 minced shallots. Saute til cooked through, but not browned. (a little golden is fine) Season with salt and black pepper. If you want a taste of Napoli, add a few red pepper flakes. Now pour in a cup of GOOD dry white wine. Let that simmer, uncovered for about 2 minutes. Add the mussels. Cover and cook for about 3 minutes. Add a few tablespoons of olive oil so good you could drink it, or if you don’t have that, a few tablespoons of butter. Sprinkle with homemade bread crumbs, (finely ground and toasted) and serve with the best bread you can get your hands on.

A pork shoulder seared, then braised with shallot, fennel, a few tomatoes, carrots, and heads of garlic, basted with a good pour of white or red wine. Serve the whole thing with some cheesy polenta and garlicky greens (broccoli rabe would be excellent)

Tons of lightly braised vegetables served with a parsley sauce or aoili

A basket of pears and apples from your farmers market with lightly roasted nuts, gorgeous dried fruits and beautiful cheese.

Roast a chicken and serve with roasted potatoes, braised onions, a mixed green salad with plenty of herbs in it and a cranberry, dried cherry sauce

Make a roast beef and cook til medium rare. (cover with olive oil, salt, pepper, onion slices, thyme sprig, and garlic before it goes in) and serve with grated fresh horseradish and sour cream and roasted cherry tomatoes. Great on sandwiches. Beautiful with a fresh beet salad (braise or roast the beets and dress with classic vinaigrette.)

Go big for your desserts. Make a yule log or a chocolate mousse or creme brulee or a baked apples stuffed with brown sugar and cinnamon, drizzled with calvados and served with big spoonful of fresh cream.

Snack time

I am not a believer in making a whole lot of horse doovers. If they eat all of what I make before dinner, then I get my knickers in a twist that they don’t eat dinner. If they don’t eat the horse doovers, I wonder what’s the matter with them. The holidays bring enough problems. Stick to nuts. Almonds look good, they are versatile and they don’t go bad. You could bake them into your cookies the next day if you had to, or stir them into your granola. Try toasting them with a knob of butter, a dash of sea salt, a piece of lemon zest, a few sprigs of thyme and a halved clove of garlic. Give them a grind of black of pepper when they’re done. (If you’re thinking you really might need them for dough the next day, leave out the garlic just in case.) Serve with green olives (I love Picholine or Taggiasche) and a bowl of clementines. That’s it.

Recipe: Gingerbread

My grandmother died the day after Christmas, last year. She was 99. What she left behind:
a patchwork quilt that my great aunt Myra made (I think my grandmother bought it from her–which is funny. My grandmother worked in a factory and my aunt Myra was loaded.)
a corner hutch
a highboy
a dresser
about 20 ceramic figurines
a massive amount of teddy bears
some very classy looking pajamas
assorted classy looking clothing
a few candy dishes
pictures of her family
video cassettes including “It’s a Wonderful Life”
a few recipes written in a little book, about 4 inches by 6 inches

I inherited: 1 ceramic dog, 1 glass dog, and a cow missing a horn. Assorted stuffed bears. A recipe for gingerbread.

This time in December, my grandmother’s closet would have been packed with old sweater boxes stuffed with about 15 kinds of Christmas cookies between layers of tissue paper. Nobody made gingerbread like my grandmother. The only thing is, she couldn’t be bothered say, if she wrote something down not quite right, because she knew what it was–she always made the same gingerbread and she knew she wrote down 4 cups of flour instead of 2 because she wrote it. I know she wrote 4 cups of flour instead of 2 because she wanted to double the recipe–but she didn’t double everything. She probably had somebody over, eating the cookies when she was writing the thing down. The trick is, certain things were doubled and certain things were not.

I figured it out, and baby they’re good.

Grandma Evelyn’s Ginger bread men.

4 cups of flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger (make sure it’s good)
1 teaspoon of allspice
1 teaspoon of cinnamon (I added this)
2 teaspoons of baking soda
pinch salt

1 cup soft unsalted butter
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons of corn syrup
1/2 cup of light molasses

Sift the dry ingredients together. Make a well. In the well, beat with your hand, the butter with the sugar and then add the eggs. Beat again. Add molasses and corn syrup. Combine everything. Refrigerate for at least an hour. Roll out with a big bowl of cookie cutters and a little knife to carve out what you want, in case you don’t have the right cutter.

Mix a little water with enough 10X sugar to make a slightly stiff frosting (needs to come through the tube, but you don’t want it to by runny.) I add a drop of vanilla. Make a pastry tube with wax paper or parchment and pipe on the faces and clothing. Don’t restrict yourself to what people expect.

Merry Christmas. With love from me and my grandma.


Menu for the job night before last:

Traditional buckwheat blini (crepe style)

with osetra caviar ($100 an ounce) served with barely hard boiled egg (9 minutes in boiling water, then immediately shocked in an ice bath), creme fraiche, chive and to color the plate–caramelized cranberry with a grind of black pepper.

Fresh lobster risotto (it’s a lot of work to pick out all of the meat–but it’s worth it) with sauteed leeks stirred in right at the end so they
stay beautifully green, a little fresh thyme and tarragon, and a garlic cream reduction. To gently warm the lobster before it gets folded into the risotto at the last minute, melt a bit of unsalted butter in a non stick saute pan, turn off the flame and add move the lobster chunks around a little. Save claw meat for the top of each dish.

Charcuterie platter of lardons, French salami, fresh French goat cheese rounds, St. Agur, petite agour, and Pave d’Affinois served with toss of bitter greens and fresh herbs (mint, parsley, tarragon) dressed with classic French vinaigrette

Yellow birthday cake with chocolate frosting