We are in full holiday swing and this is how I do it.
Make sure your bar is well stocked. Have a worthy selection of wines at hand, buy a couple of cases of prosecco then use them as an honorable excuse to start drinking early, don’t forget to buy rum or whiskey to spike teas and hot chocolates, have a large selection of after dinner cordials or amari to take the hedge off and to promote a healthy digestion. Pick up some enjoyable juices and ciders for the abstainers. Join the craze and benefit from the miracles of shared economy: open an Uber account to accommodate the driving needs of your house guests.
Keep your topic of conversation innocuous and graceful. It’s the holidays after all. Unfortunately, be prepared to discuss Trump ad nauseam. Should you notice a void and/or boredom linger over your guests, refer to my list of conversation kick-starters:
- Who’s the best 007? Most people will go for Sean Connery. Startle them and confess your true fondness for Roger Moore. No shame in that.
- If you could eat only one food for the rest of your life, what would it be and why? I pledge my allegiance to Parmigiano because it’s the perfect food. Period.
- You are stuck on a deserted island, and you can only take three things. What would they be?
- What is the riskiest thing you have ever done?
- My MIL favorite one. Do you know you cannot run and pee at the same time? If you don’t believe me try it.
- Ask everyone to demonstrate his or her favorite party trick. Make sure you have one of your own before you ask.
- Pope John Paul II was an honorary Harlem Globetrotter. Discuss.
- Who’s your favorite judge on Chopped. I know I have one.
- If you had the opportunity to meet one person you haven’t met before, who would it be, why and what would you talk about?
- If all fails go back to your original conversation and discuss how insulting of a choice for this country Trump would be.
They are home from school for 2 weeks. Set them free and give them some running time, preferably outdoor.
Cook with them. Try an easy recipe. Don’t make your life complicated, don’t start a complex craft project like a hand-baked ginger bread house. Traders Giotto, don’t we all love that name, has a great easy and inexpensive kit; or think pigs in the blanket, my kids love rolling them and they are always proud of showing off their culinary and master chef abilities to the guests.
Hire the kids as waiters or bartenders, or even as coat checkers, make sure they know how to mix a proper martini and a stiff Bloody Mary. It’s an important life skill to have. Sort of like waltzing.
By all means don’t overpay them or you’ll spoil it for all of us.
As children in Italy, we had to pick grapes on harvest day, for 8 hours straight, our per diem was a whopping 1000 lira. That’s the today equivalent of 10 cents. We loved it and we got to use real sharp scissors and occasionally machete size knives with no adult supervision. If all else fails, just know Elf is on a loop on abc family and it never gets old.
Here’s the complete schedule.
NO IPHONES, IPADS , nothing with a plug. It all can wait, Siri is a strong lady and she will be fine on her own for a little while.
It’s over rated. While you want to make sure nothing weird is lurking in the bathrooms, resign your self to just live with some degree of disarray until everyone has left the premises, that’s after New Year’s Day, Boxing day or Befana if you are Italian.
There are plenty of 2015 gift guides going around and Amazon prime is in my opinion a Godsend. No lines, no crowds. Halleluiah.
But cliché for cliché all I want for Christmas is some sound sleep and a happy well fed family and friends. Which brings me to my last and most rewarding paragraphs.
In the next few weeks you are going to eat a lot and feed a lot of people. You might not want to be constantly relegated in the kitchen cooking and cleaning while everyone else is having a good time.
My humble suggestion: Organize and stock your pantry, freezer and fridge well. Then you’ll have most of the staples you’ll need to cook simple and quick meals and spend more time with the people you love, while opening those nice bottle of wine I mention at the beginning of the post. I’ll shortly reveal my ingredient list and some of my recipes but to elucidate my point better, I have asked some lustrous food pros to weight in and divulge their pantry secrets.
My dear friend Carolyn Carreño answered first. Carolyn is a celebrated and seasoned food writer and an impeccable journalist that has won a James Beard Award, can you hear the God’s of food sing from her kitchen?__ she has written innumerable and for sure some of my favorites cook books among which- “The Mozza Cookbook” by Nancy Silverton, and “Sara Foster’s Casual Cooking” and most importantly, she is about the publish her very own cook book on grain bowls.
She emailed me from her kitchen while testing recipes for the book and said:
“working on a book on Grain Bowls, I like to keep anything I could possibly want to experiment with in my recipes on hand. My tiny kitchen looks like a store. beyond 3 types of olive oil (cooking quality+ not extra-virgin, extra-virgin, and good extra-virgin. this type of year, add a 4th: new olive oil); and for vinegar: white wine, champagne, true sherry vinegar, cheap-o balsamic, good, viscous, drizzling (real) balsamic di Modena, rice wine and red wine vinegar, my pantry essentials besides those basics and every grain and bean known to man: er.. coconut milk: for making quick Thai curries out of whatever’s rolling around in the crisper drawer. pasta: anyone who has spent any time in an Italian kitchen should be able to make a great dinner if there’s a box of pasta in the house (see olive oil, above). canned tuna. I wouldn’t be American if I didn’t have five ways to turn tuna into a meal. “
Next I heard from Uber Stylish Dutch Chef Jill Lumenta.
Jill and I endured Cordon Bleu together in London. She is a true talent and has quite an adventurous life. Upon graduating, she trained at Michel Roux in London and worked for Gordon Ramsey, she then followed her true passion, and with her man, she set sail on their fabulous charter yacht where she cooks her way around the world for famous clients and lately, she takes care of a delicious new born baby.
This is what she told me about her floating pantry:
“Well, that’s easy, although there are many there is one staple I will always make sure I either take with me or source online. Either at work or at home/boat you will ALWAYS find a bottle of kecap manis in my pantry. A thick sweet Indonesian soy sauce that can be used for marinades, sauces, dipping sauce or like a condiment. What ketchup is to the west is km to the east!! There are many brands and I have not tried them all but ABC is my favourite! I would shy away from companies like Heinz or smaller companies in Holland that make their own ‘spin on’ on kecap manis, often lacking the authentic flavor that makes km so distinct just to suit everybody’s palate. If you want to try it, you gotta make sure it is at least made in Indonesia”
Chef Tara Norvel wrote me as well. Tara is also a Cordon Bleu graduate. She was a sous-chef in the kitchen at Roberta’s in Bushwick’s. That should already indicate how utterly talented she is. She then started the acclaimed Okonomi in Williamsburg and wowed the New York crowds. Her philosophy on food resides in simplicity and clean flavors.
True to her believes she gave me a succinct but tasty answer.
My top 3 fav pantry items are:
Katsuobushi. Use it in dressing with soy sauce or as a pungent topping on rice.
Kombu. Try it on your stock and use it to season.
Old Bay. No explanation necessary. We should all have Old Bay in our pantry.
Last but not least Jessica Gordon Ryan chimed in and brought oodles of style to the conversation.
Jessica was recently described as “a lifestyle writer, photographer and memoirist with a stellar reputation as a trendsetting bon vivant. The stylish and vivacious owner/creative director of The Entertaining House—a website that has become synonymous with poise and luxury—has garnered attention from top brands, designers and celebrities from around the world. Both professionally and for The Entertaining House Gordon Ryan writes dexterously about culture across the board.”
I’m blinded by her sparkle. J’adore Jessica. She simply and elegantly wrote:
Pasta – in a pinch for a meal we can always turn to pasta
Olive oil/vinegar – For pasta or salad. I almost always make my own vinaigrette.
Assorted nuts/crackers – for last minute entertaining
Flour/sugar/chocolate – for my incurable chocolate chip cookie cravings!
My turn. I love a full pantry and an equally full fridge. The idea is to be able to cook something delicious in less a pinch of time without getting out of your, of course, silk PJ or leaving the house.
Always keep you spice and herb rack well stocked. If you finish something replace it quickly, that way you can look at a recipe and completely cook it before your inspiration and will run out.
Oils, vinegars, soy sauces, fish sauces, mustards have it all and don’t forget stocks, bullions, salts, peppers and peperoncini.
Baking supplies. Yes! Make sure to keep them in zip lock bags so they don’t spill all over or become rancid. Have all kind of flours, sugars, extracts, yeasts, baking powders and sodas, molasses, honey, syrups and gelatins. If you get the urge to bake cookies, cakes or make a vanilla pudding you can feed the cravings.
By the way, for the perfect Friday night meal, remember: pizza dough takes 4 minutes flat to make in a Kitchen-Aid plus time for proofing.
Make a chocolate box and fill it with baking chocolates, powders and chips.
Stockpile on breadcrumbs, or better make your own with old bread and pasta, rice, barley, semolina, polenta.
Keep a good selection of canned goods, legumes and nuts. Of course, have adequate amounts of canned tomatoes and tomatoes sauce plus jams and marmalades for crostata. I’m fascinated with one pot pasta recipes. All the ingredients go in the same pot and in less than 15 minutes dinner, a good dinner is ready.
Be creative, every time I shop for food and I see something non-perishable, on sale and inspiring I buy it. I don’t shy away or hold back from much. From the exotic to the common I hoard and stash. After all, you never know when you are going to be inspired to make a delightful sea urchin pasta or a simple cannellini bean and tuna salad in less than 15 minutes; or when you will need a tin of plums, vacuum packed chestnuts, dried porcini and even black summer truffles to finish a rich sauce.
I also believe in a full freezer. Mine it’s jam-packed with meat sauce, soups, steaks, meatballs, pastry dough, I think I have meatloaf or two in there and then duck confit, pancakes and caramelized garlic.
Keep plenty of butter, eggs, prosciutto, bacon, pancetta, dairies and cheeses handy. Smoked salmon and pates also very good to have and well some hotdogs.
Finally always have fruit, greens, fresh herbs and veggies around as well as roots and potatoes. There are some stunning Farmers Markets in winter also.
I’m planning to hibernate for the next couple of weeks and to play as much competitive Scrabble as I can. I will also be doing some cooking, entertaining and no cleaning. I have a great Christmas menu planned that includes rabbit and my dad’s agnolotti, in between I will be visiting my pantry where I’m sure I’ll find plenty of ingredients and inspiration for quick meals.
Tonight I’ll be making a family favorite I inherited from my mother in law a quick zucchini, lemon and speck pasta, tomorrow is another day and I think I’ll make my upside-down pear ginger cake. Friday is pizza night and a chocolate biscotti baking frenzy
Happy holidays! Share joy, share food.