Monday, December 28, 2009

After the holidays, something simple

As the husband astutely pointed out a little while ago, one of the reasons you grow up and move away from your parents is so that you can do things the way you like. There is almost no better example of this than how you choose to host a holiday.

In addition to keeping the menu simple so that I can spend more time with my guests and less time in the kitchen, the main thing I have discovered about holiday entertaining is that it is best to blend family and friends. Having a dinner comprised solely of family is no good; you need outsiders to lighten the feel, even among the happiest of families.  Any holiday, because of the great potential for joy, contains the capacity for high emotions, old baggage, and general disappointment. Diversifying your portfolio of guests is an excellent way to ensure that the mood stays festive.

Plus, it can be interesting to mix people up. This year, we had my mother, two friends from the neighborhood, and another friend who used to live in the neighborhood but left us for a fancier zip code. These friends sort of knew each other, though not well. Because everyone was getting acquainted, the conversation skipped some of the dullness you sometimes fall into with people you know well: How is your job? How is so-and-so, our mutual friend? With (socially adept) strangers, the conversation veers toward the less personal and more fun: politics, movies, food, dogs, travel.

So went our Christmas dinner. The food was good and stress-free, there was plenty of wine and a Growler of beer from Magnolia, and lots of lively banter. The pork roast and gratin went over nicely and we finished dinner with our friend Liz's delicious mixed berry crumble, a perfect sweet-tart ending to the meal.

Saturday was spent recovering, eating ramen at Tanpopo and going to the movies.

By Sunday I felt like cooking again, but nothing laborious. Something simple like Marcella Hazan's pork sausages with red cabbage, served over soft polenta, fit the bill.

As you know, Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking is a favorite of mine. If I could only cook from one book for the rest of my life (what an absurd idea!), this would be it. I've already mentioned her chicken with marsala and porcini mushrooms, her bolognese sauce, and you're probably sick of hearing me wax poetic about her chicken with two lemons.  Add this to my list of recipes I could not live without, the ingredients for which simply read: pork sausages, red cabbage, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper.

The cabbage is cooked low and slow for close to an hour, turning it soft, sweet, and deeply purple. Served over creamy pale yellow polenta, it's the perfect contrast to the slightly salty pork sausages.

We haven't yet entered the obligatory healthy eating mania that often follows the holidays, I suppose because the holidays aren't quite over. No doubt New Year's will require something a little decadent to go with a sparkly drink. But the fancy part of the holidays are over, to me at least, and this is the kind of rustic food that is best enjoyed without tinsel, gifts, friends or fanfare, just a good bottle of wine.


  1. I agree wholeheartedly about that. The times where I've invited both family members and friends to my holiday dinners have been among the most cherished. There is a wonderful synergy that happens. And friends often get family members talking about their lives in a way we who are related to them can't. Here's to more parties with friends and family in the new year!

  2. You are absolutely right, it is best to mix family with friends. I am going to remember that advice. Food Gal said right too, friends can get family talking about their lives in a way that the relatives cannot. If you have the right mix of friends and family, the atomsphere is more relaxed and fun.

    Cheers to you and your famil y in the New Year.

    P.S. The sausage and cabbage look absolutely delightful.

  3. Too true Hungry Dog, too true. If only our family didn't live so far away from our friends I'd love to do this too. Sounds like you had a relaxed and happy Christmas. Here's to a great start to 2010.

    And that dinner looks delishh, I'm a big fan of cabbage even if it does earn me odd looks :)

  4. Hungry Dog, I couldn't have said it better. Yes a diverse portfolio of guests is a must for a fun filled holiday and it sounds like yours was perfect!
    I also love Marcella. Have you tried her Country Cooked Sausages? Cooked in a pot with potato wedges, onions and tomato, it's out of this world!
    Have a Happy, Healthy and Joyful New Year Hungry Dog.

  5. I like to mix it up as well. Family mixed with friends is always best, otherwise it gets boring!!

  6. mmm...creamy polenta. that entices me most of all, but the colorful cabbage doesn't hurt either. oh, and then there's the sausage. what a great dish. :)

  7. Polenta. I love polenta. And who would have imagined that red cabbage could turn that color? The perfect complement to the yellow polenta. What's missing? Lemesee....oh, yes! A sausage. Ahhhh, now I'm happy. Perfect meal.

    I think if I only had one cookbook (I agree, why would anyone do that???) it would have to be Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries. But if I had two the other one would be Italian.

    Happy New Year, Hungry Dog. I'm glad I found your blog this year.

  8. Food Gal: that's an excellent point about strangers/family--they really can bring out sides of each other you've never seen!

    Gypsy Chef: I have not tried that recipe--it is offically on my list since you recommended it! I have several of her books, it's got to be in one of them. And best wisheds to you for the new year!

    Kate: Yes, this recipe is the recipe that made me realize I like cabbage, at least red cabbage. I never thought I did, but I could eat buckets of this. Weird but true.

    I don't have the Nigel Slater book: that's another that goes on the list.

    And happy new year to you too! I look forward to reading many more of your wonderful and inspiring posts over at Serendipity in 2010.

  9. I'm gearing up for our annual new years day feast, so my holiday cooking isn't quite done with yet... somehow since my parents are no longer up for cooking, I've inherited the responsibility of whipping up obscure Japanese foods! so, if you wait around long enough, things end up going around in a full circle... Happy New Year

  10. I absolutely agree with you and your husband re: hosting your own holidays. My holidays could not be any more different than my mother's! Have a happy new year!

  11. Love that Marcella recipe...this is how my kids learned how to eat "purple noodles." Wish I could hit Tanpopo with you...

  12. foodhoe: I hope you post about said feast...I can't wait to read about these obscure Japanese foods! Happy new year to you, too!

    CynnamonShticks: Thank you for visiting! And happy new year!

    MisterJary: I wish you could have joined us at Tanpopo too... their wonton ramen with char siu is the best.

  13. Sounds like a perfect holiday dinner with friends and family! Smart to mix it up. Funny how the cabbage turned dark purple (almost blue) like that. What a hearty meal for a post-Christmas celebration!

  14. Love braised red cabbage and sausage! I've never considered an Italian twist, though, I usually do a French or German thing and serve it with potatoes or bread.

  15. Ben: isn't it pretty? I was so surprised the first time I made it by the definitely made me more excited about eating it!

    croquecamille: have you posted your French or German method on your blog? I'd love to see it...
    I'm braising some cabbage right now as we speak!

  16. Here's the first choucroute garnie I ever made:

    And here's a quicker red cabbage version:

  17. Camille--thanks for the links! I'm checking them out now...

    Hungry Dog