Holiday (Cookbook!) Picks of the Week

We have strong opinions about food in our family. Especially the food we should eat during the holidays. For years, Christmas dinner was a work in progress around here—I’d comb through book after book on shelf after shelf, looking for just the right recipes to make the whole holiday dinner experience uniquely magical. Which meant I always cooked something complicated that I’d never cooked before, and the only “magic” was the fact that I didn’t wring my family’s necks when they innocently asked if they could help, then wisely abandoned me to my mounting stress and bad mood.

So, I’ve simplified—proving there is such a thing as being able to pick up just a shred of wisdom as one ages. And although I do waver between several main course recipes now, they all come from the same book:

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I’m sure it’s corny to cook from Julia, especially after that lame movie that came out a few years ago. Let it be known, however, that I have no desire to cook my way through every recipe in this book. Only a few excellent and hard-chosen ones and usually, only once a year. Last year, I made Julia’s recipe for roast beef. This year, I’m following one of her methods for roasting duck, stuffing it with pate-stuffed prunes, then browning it all over to render the fat. (In past years, I’ve made her goose—tough, through no fault of Julia’s—and her roast beef—top-notch.) More than once a year but without fail on Christmas, I also make Julia’s gratin dauphinois—layers of thin-sliced potatoes mixed up with Emmental, baked until crisp on top and fabulously melted-cheesy on the inside. Why mess with perfection?

From year to year, I waver in my desire to make the tiny onions cooked in port from this sweet little book of Italian vegetable recipes:

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They’re delicious and easy enough to actually cook; but a pain in the neck to prep—peeling the thin skins off all those tiny little onions without gouging away too much of their flesh takes literally forever. But there’s not much to do for the duck. So, what the heck. Although, I’ll probably wind up eating all the onions myself.

Finally:

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Anyone who knows me knows I hate baking (and irrelevantly, sewing). But my daughter has been a devotee of the bûche del Nöel ever since I first ill-temperedly banged one out when she was about 4 years old. As luck would have it, now she can make this thing herself. And she does—and will do it again this year, with all manner of festooning with marzipan leaves and meringue mushrooms.

Rose Levy Beranbaum’s book confuses me; to make every recipe requires 3 recipes—flipping back and forth from page to page—and their mandates are so strict that I’m always terrified even to even read them, let alone follow them. But this book has never yielded a bad cake yet, despite my ineptitude. Which, also luckily, my daughter has not inherited. 

Happy holidays and holiday cooking to all of you—whatever you celebrate and whatever recipes you follow (or don’t)! See you in 2015.

xxx,

Lela

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