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Angela Alaimo

Ultimately, you are cooking for yourself

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Yesterday we went over to our brother and sister-in-law's for Thanksgiving dinner. BIL was making the turkey--I made the sides. If you count the roasted garlic treat I threw in for him, I made eight. I reckon you could call my offerings non-traditional, although I used common and seasonal ingredients, like turnips, collard greens, eggplant, cannellini beans (not all in one dish!). MIL brought a bunch of stuff she'd bought at the store.

Of course, everyone fell on her grub and BIL's Ruffles with onion soup mix + sour cream dip as if it were their last meal, and I had to plead with them to just try some of mine. :shock:

They are all coming over to my house for Christmas dinner. The other day I was thinking of offering a cheese course, as the local market has begun stocking a delicious Spanish Manchego, and it's good enough to inspire. Of course, they would probably not "get it", especially if the cheeses aren't cut into chunks and served in a plastic box from the Shop Rite. And what on earth would we be doing eating CHEESE after the main part of the meal? Aren't we just supposed to shove it into our maws while we wait for the turkey's skin to get soggy, as BIL has wrapped it so tightly in foil while it's resting, that it is now in a Turk(ey)ish Sauna!

So now I have a dilemma. Do I cook the way I want to cook, and keep hoping they will eventually come around, or cook what they want and are used to, because I want to be polite and welcoming to my guests?

Granted, none of the In Laws have ever cooked anything as bad as what some of you have been subjected to, but there have been a few things that were heading into that ballpark. And there are a lot of things better in life than a shrink-wrapped russet potato with a little exhaust vent that you "bake" in the microwave "In Only 8 Minutes!"

Angela


"I'm not looking at the panties, I'm looking at the vegetables!" --RJZ

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Angela,

"educating" people in better cooking is a time-consuming process but entirely worthwhile ... I would consider making some of my own personal favorites and then some of their tried-and-true items for the comfort factor...

This isn't going to happen without effort and patience on your part but then this will be in your home and you have a bit more 'leverage' on what and how you prepare the food ... :wink:


Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

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Oh, I think good cooking always goes over with diners regardless of their past experience and present sophistication. Think about a properly cooked steak or a turkey with crispy skin: both are delightful, neither is intimidating to less sophisticated diners. There are plenty of dishes out there that fit this description. Avoid the temptation to go too far from the mainstream and cook simple food well -- you'll be happy, they'll be happy.

And remember: no one is born eating machengo after the entree; you had to learn it just like I and everybody else did. There are too damn many food snobs in the world, please don't become another one.

Cook what you like, trust your guests, serve the cheese course with a little humor ("forgive me for trying to be French, here") rather than hauteur, and remember that their company -- always, always, always -- is more important than your food.


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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i agree with melissa completely...while its nice to make them feel welcome in your home by fixing some of the things they like...dont negelct your own personal tastes either..while every day is for sharing..the holidays are extra special...the time when most of us pull out the big guns and really go to town with our culinary efforts on the mor e personal homefront level..this is not to say that the professionals dont do it on a daily basis for their customers..but we are talking about the holiday home front here..the time for family and friends...a time to really share with those we love

so go ahead and fix some of their "comfort" foods as it is part of their family traditions...but dont give up your personal taste either....who knows...at soem point they just might get it... but if they dont...dont worry about it overly much...


Edited by ladyyoung98 (log)

a recipe is merely a suggestion

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Well, I don't want to turn into a snob, but boy, they sure make it tempting sometimes. :raz:

However, I grabbed the last of what was my favorite dish, the Turnip Risotto, and brought it home. Today I looked in the container and there isn't as much left as I reckoned there would be. So they either liked it, or it got thrown out.

Perhaps the best strategy would be to take the familiar food and prepare it in unfamiliar ways? That would make it interesting and fun for me, and they wouldn't think they are part of a science experiment.

I like Busboy's suggestion to use humor--and I did get the Les Halles cookbook and have asked for the autographed copy of Bouchon for Christmas, so it already looks as if I'm trying to be French. :laugh: (need an emoticon with a beret!).

They do sort of consider me the cook in the family, so here's hoping they will tolerate my forays off the traditional track. Though I thought my son was going to resort to fisticuffs when they poo-pooed brining a turkey without having ever tried it! Hmph. Talk about being snobby! Too bad for those guys--they had fresh turkeys marked down at the market today, as they have to move them or lose them--we're going to BRINE it and they are going to miss out. Oh, ok, maybe we'll invite them over so they can give it a try. Now that would really be showing them some love.

Angela


"I'm not looking at the panties, I'm looking at the vegetables!" --RJZ

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What you may want to try is having a "ringer". Corner one of your family, and give them a sample. Then, tell them that if they like it and don't make sure other people try it, you're writing them out of the will. :blink::hmmm::smile:

edit to make my emoticons work right


Edited by jsolomon (log)

I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

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Perhaps the best strategy would be to take the familiar food and prepare it in unfamiliar ways?  That would make it interesting and fun for me, and they wouldn't think they are part of a science experiment. 

As someone who tried and failed to make in-roads with the pedestrian palates of her family (pistachio-cardamom cake, anyone?) my suggestion is to serve both -- traditional foods and a few non-traditional preparations. My wise and sage spouse constantly reminds me that the holidays are a time for comfort food. It's not a dinner party.

The following ran in the Wall Street Journal yesterday regarding Charlie Trotter:

When Mr. Trotter first started cooking professionally he announced to his mother and grandmother that he would cook the entire Thanksgiving dinner. That's exactly what he did -- using duck instead of turkey and oysters in the stuffing. After that, he was banned from the kitchen. "There are certain times you just don't mess with tradition," he says.

"Some people see a sheet of seaweed and want to be wrapped in it. I want to see it around a piece of fish."-- William Grimes

"People are bastard-coated bastards, with bastard filling." - Dr. Cox on Scrubs

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As someone who tried and failed to make in-roads with the pedestrian palates of her family (pistachio-cardamom cake, anyone?) my suggestion is to serve both -- traditional foods and a few non-traditional preparations.  My wise and sage spouse constantly reminds me that the holidays are a time for comfort food.  It's not a dinner party.

The following ran in the Wall Street Journal yesterday regarding Charlie Trotter:

When Mr. Trotter first started cooking professionally he announced to his mother and grandmother that he would cook the entire Thanksgiving dinner. That's exactly what he did -- using duck instead of turkey and oysters in the stuffing. After that, he was banned from the kitchen. "There are certain times you just don't mess with tradition," he says.

I agree - and disagree. Mostly because comfort foods vary in these days of really extended families. For example - I can't bring my fabulous corn chowder (with the fat back) over to my brother's house (most people there eat kosher). And my root veggie puree doesn't go over great with my husband's family because it's not mashed potatoes.

But you know something - I made Thanksgiving for 12 this year (my husband's family) - and I made the foods that I like best on Thanksgiving. MY comfort foods. Only deviations were 1) I made a pork tenderloin instead of a turkey because the family ate turkey at noon at the nursing home with my father-in-law; 2) I made creamed onions - which I hate - and apple pie - which isn't my favorite - because my father-in-law asked for them. But they were add-ons to all of MY favorites (I wound up cooking for 3 days to make it all). And tonight there's a small turkey in the oven so I can have my traditional turkey leg to go with all the leftovers.

By the way Angela - I don't think that a cheese course goes with Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. I'm not sure why. It just doesn't in my opinion. Although it's absolutely perfect for New Year's (in fact that's what I eat New Year's - a huge fruit and cheese plate - who has room for anything else after all that cheese :smile: ?) Robyn

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Well, after last year's strays thanksgiving fiasco (roommate and i wound up in a power struggle), i've learned a thing or two about tradition.

She wanted to do it her way, which involved olives int he stuffing, and then she decided to go avant garde, and my guests got very worried (they wanted casseroles and corn) so i had to plan an alternative "normal" thanksgiving dinner for them.

basically what i did tho was riff in small and subtle ways - ie - broccoli casserole with a real cheese sauce, no canned soups - big hit, flan for dessert, that sort of thing.

nothing over the top or too far off the beaten path, in appearance, but a little more upscale in taste.

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Here's the thing... like someone upthread said, Thanksgiving, and the holidays are not dinner parties. They're not about "learning" and not about "discovering" new things. They are about returning to one's roots, comfort, tradition, fellowship, friends and family -- even if said family is a bunch of single folks that happen to find themselves far from home.

It's just not the time for experimenting with new stuff and trying to improve folks.

No matter how good the meal is, if you don't get your "fix" of your usual things, you leave kinda dissatisfied.

For those of you that want to improve your friends' and family's palates, do that "on the side" of your regular meal. And in addition, invite them over on evenings other than a traditional holiday, when what they are in search of at your home is not to experience the new and adventuresome.

Offer the traditional things that you know they need to see.

And work in your dishes as side offerings. They can reach out from their comfort zone of their plate of turkey and stuffing and mac and cheese, or whatever it is, and try some new things.

And then, have them over at times other than the holidays to experiment, try, learn, discover, improve.

But most folks don't like showing up at what they think is going to be an easy, fun, comfortable event and instead find out that somebody else is trying to improve them.


Edited by Jaymes (log)

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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The thing to beware of, as well, is that the Thanksgiving dinner is sometimes an inter-generational/intra-family family battleground. Thank goodness that this has never happened in my family, but the advice columns and even some of the threads on eG are rife with tales of families where the dinner draws conflict to the serface: mom thinks daughter is trying to overthrow mom's kitchen dominance, or worse that daughter's criticism of the turkey means "you were a bad mom." Brothers who stayed behind and never got rich think that their lawyer siblings are putting on airs; plus the normal battles that come out in times of stress and forced togetherness.

I remember one of the Washington Post's on-line food columnists, Kim O'Donnel, having a public crisis over her mother's refusal to allow Kim to cook anything for Thanksgiving. This went on for a copuple of years until they finally reached some sort of compromise, but it was clear that there was a lot more going on than differences over whether or not to brine the turkey.

Which leads to the thought that compromises can often be brokered. Bring dessert or a side dish, open a good bottle of wine, find a way to enhance, rather than criticize, the dinner you're served. Let them -- if anyone -- be the ones to take themselves or their dinner too seriously and find some other way to have a good (or escape early :laugh: ).


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Bring a big ole good ole bottle of scotch. I've learned you can't change the feathers on a peacock---and really, would you wanta!? Sit with the oldest folks there and drill them for T-Days long gone.

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Sit with the oldest folks there and drill them for T-Days long gone.

This is brilliance. Look at it as a time to learn.


I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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So now I have a dilemma.  Do I cook the way I want to cook, and keep hoping they will eventually come around, or cook what they want and are used to, because I want to be polite and welcoming to my guests? 

Angela

Holiday or not, if I have people at my house, I want them to EAT!! I cook very differently for my friends than I do for my sisters/brother and families. (And I'm not even all that ambitious a cook, it's just that my family is very meat-and-potatoes.)

So I think the ultimate question in terms of deciding what to cook is: what will they eat? You can go all out for guests/friends you know will be appreciative of your effort, because they'll feel that you did it for them. Your family will probably feel that you did it for yourself, and that in itself will make them feel slighted. Not unjustifiably, IMO.

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Yesterday we went over to our brother and sister-in-law's for Thanksgiving dinner.  BIL was making the turkey--I made the sides.  If you count the roasted garlic treat I threw in for him, I made eight.  I reckon you could call my offerings non-traditional, although I used common and seasonal ingredients, like turnips, collard greens, eggplant, cannellini beans (not all in one dish!).  MIL brought a bunch of stuff she'd bought at the store.

Of course, everyone fell on her grub and BIL's Ruffles with onion soup mix + sour cream dip as if it were their last meal, and I had to plead with them to just try some of mine.  :shock:

They are all coming over to my house for Christmas dinner.  The other day I was thinking of offering a cheese course, as the local market has begun stocking a delicious Spanish Manchego, and it's good enough to inspire.  Of course, they would probably not "get it", especially if the cheeses aren't cut into chunks and served in a plastic box from the Shop Rite.  And what on earth would we be doing eating CHEESE after the main part of the meal?  Aren't we just supposed to shove it into our maws while we wait for the turkey's skin to get soggy, as BIL has wrapped it so tightly in foil while it's resting, that it is now in a Turk(ey)ish Sauna!

So now I have a dilemma.  Do I cook the way I want to cook, and keep hoping they will eventually come around, or cook what they want and are used to, because I want to be polite and welcoming to my guests? 

Granted, none of the In Laws have ever cooked anything as bad as what some of you have been subjected to, but there have been a few things that were heading into that ballpark.  And there are a lot of things better in life than a shrink-wrapped russet potato with a little exhaust vent that you "bake" in the microwave "In Only 8 Minutes!" 

Angela

I feel your pain. I'm in a similar situation, and I have to constantly remind myself that this particular meal is about family, not about culinary excellence. Still, I pine for the wonderful-looking spreads I see and read about in cooking magazines, and I deeply regret that this year's left-over turkey was put into a pot pie with frozen mixed vegetables and Cream of Chicken soup. And I am thankful that the stuffing-in-the-turkey, without benefit of thermometer, did not make me ill.

I have a couple of ideas. One is to introduce new dishes, one at a time. If people are confronted with a bunch of unfamiliar food, they're going to balk. But one "new" dish may gain some fans. That's how special family favorites are created.

The second suggestion is to do your own turkey-based meal at home, a week or two... or more... before Thanksgiving. You'll have time to preserve the leftovers for later, and you can fix whatever you please, however you please. Invite a couple of adventurous "foodie" relatives or friends. Your heart's prayers will be answered, and when the real Thanksgiving rolls around, you can relax and compromise like crazy without feeling like you're missing out.

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Thank you all for your insights. You have to know, however, that these are all my husband's relatives--which means I have no idea what they would call Comfort Food. And when I ask what they would like, I either get "Oh, anything you make is good!", or no reply at all. :blink:

Saturday broke some new ground, though! I made the Les Halles beef bourguignon (and Tater Tots :wub: ), and asked DH, "Would you like me to make some creamed spinich?" He says, "Do we have a box of it in the freezer?" I sez, "I was going to make it with real spinach and real cream." Silence. "Oh, ok." Now his mom has often made creamed spinach for holiday meals, and since he told me my creamed spinach tasted a lot different than any he's ever had before, it seems that we revealed Mom was using the frozen stuff. Of course, this creats a new dilemma--creamed spinach would fit the criteria of comfort/traditional/appropriate, but do you make it fresh, or from a box?

We enjoyed our brined turkey last night. The boys are now happy.

PS: I like the idea of getting them likkered up the best. LOL. And Robyn, cheese goes with everything!

Angela


"I'm not looking at the panties, I'm looking at the vegetables!" --RJZ

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I feel your pain.  I'm in a similar situation, and I have to constantly remind myself that this particular meal is about family, not about culinary excellence.  Still, I pine for the wonderful-looking spreads I see and read about in cooking magazines...

For anyone who's inclined to feel sorry for him/herself - just feel grateful that you're not my brother and sister-in-law. They are both adventurous eaters and excellent cooks. And they cook Thanksgiving every year mostly for her family (and my parents). Half the family is Kosher. Most of the younger people are vegans. The older people either can't eat salt (congestive heart failure) - or sugar (diabetic) - or both. I did manage to find one new recipe for them this year - but it wasn't easy :wacko: . I like to see my brother and sister-in-law - but not on Thanksgiving. Robyn

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robyn, you just made a major SCORE with the problem. We are no longer all brought up around the same table. We don't even know some of our 2nd or 3rd degree cousins. But it's an important thing to contact family--they are a part of the hoop of life.

Planning a menu for such an event can be totally intimidating...hence my suggestion of the bottle of scotch and a place by the sofa with the elders.

At Christmas this year, we are going out to the Crow Agency, and I intend to take a recorder, for I don't want to miss anything. There are elders there who recall burials up on poles as you would see in movies. Here it's a reality, and swiftly disappearing.

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Last year was the first year I hosted Christams Eve (meatless holiday for us), it was usually my Mom's but after my Dad passed away she handed it over to me. We had a lot of the old favorites pierogies, babka, picked beets, herring, fried fish, spinach dip in pumpernickel bread. I also included some new foods, garlic shrimp and saffron rice, brie en croute, antipasto platter, I also made some ziti for the kids. Well all the old favorites were gobbled up as well as the baked ziti, all the new stuff was barely touched. I went to a lot of work to make these things and almost no one ate them, but it dawned on me that wasn't what they were expecting. To make my life a lot easier this year I am putting out only the stuff they ate last year and maybe one new fancy appetizer. This way I'll have more time to enjoy my guests and relax.

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creamed spinach would fit the criteria of comfort/traditional/appropriate, but do you make it fresh, or from a box?

make it fresh and don't compromise.

did he like your homemade creamed spinach?

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robyn, you just made a major SCORE with the problem. We are no longer all brought up around the same table. We don't even know some of our 2nd or 3rd degree cousins. But it's an important thing to contact family--they are a part of the hoop of life...

Depends what you mean by "family". I don't see any particular need to spend Thanksgiving with 15-20 of my sister-in-law's family on my side (it's the same gathering every year - and has been that way for 20 years now). I just wind up bored and feeling ill-fed (not to mention that they live 350 miles from us - so we'd have to fight holiday traffic too). Ditto with my sister-in-law's family on my husband's side - where it's a lot of her husband's family - and the guys' idea of Thanksgiving is having the women do all the cooking and the cleaning while they watch football games. And that Thanksgiving is 400 miles away in the opposite direction from where my brother lives.

About 5 years ago - a year after a 13 hour trip home from North Carolina (a trip which usually takes 5 hours absent holiday traffic) - we just decided to stay home on Thanksgiving. We knew no one would ever visit us due to the 2 long-standing "ritual Thanksgivings" mentioned above - so we made our little meal - sometimes with some neighbors - the last few years with my FIL (who's in a nursing home near us now). Until this year - which is probably my FIL's last Thanksgiving. I decided that my husband's family would come if invited - and they did (even his brother and family - who live 1000+ miles away). I think everyone enjoyed the change of pace.

By the way - we did go to New York last month for a family bar mitzvah (my family) - where we saw lots of aunts/uncles/cousins we hadn't seen for years. Had a great time. And my favorite holiday meal in terms of cooking was making a Christmas Eve party for about 30 in a rental condo for my husband's family. My husband's sister was doing Christmas. His mother usually made Christmas Eve but she was pretty sick (she died 2 months later). That was 2000 - a year when Chanukah was late and overlapped with Christmas. So I cooked both my traditional Chanukah dishes and my husband's family's traditional Christmas Eve dishes at home - packed them in coolers - drove them to North Carolina - and served both. My MIL had a lot of difficulty getting food down then - but she ate my kugel (she'd never even heard of kugel before) with a gusto that everyone couldn't believe. It was a very gratifying family party.

I guess what I'm saying is you should see family - but not on forced marches you know you're going to hate. And I'm also saying that families shouldn't get into ruts. Mix it up a bit. Both in terms of who goes where when (especially important when not only cousins - but siblings - sometimes live thousands of miles away) - and what you eat. Robyn

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Food and wine is serious business in our family. There are pitched and heated battles over gravy and stuffing, but that's part of the tradition.

But something funny is going on. The older generation (my mom and Aunt) keep messing with tradition. I'm the adventurous cook/eater...and I have to keep beating them back into the traditional dishes. :laugh: One year, we got risotto instead of mashed potatoes. I mean come on...risotto?? Poor Auntie never hears the end of that one. And my mother bought an amputated turkey (breast only) this year...what is up with that??? I wailed so much she went and bought me one leg. Great, amputated and one-legged.

I like the traditional dishes! Once a year is just fine. But I agree with some other sensible souls upthread, tradition with one or two new dishes thrown in. This year, I snuck in a fennel gratin that was a surprise hit. I love the holidays, and my family. Lucky me. :biggrin:

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creamed spinach would fit the criteria of comfort/traditional/appropriate, but do you make it fresh, or from a box?

make it fresh and don't compromise.

did he like your homemade creamed spinach?

Yes, he did. He said it tasted "really spinachy", unlike the boxed version. :laugh:

Angela


"I'm not looking at the panties, I'm looking at the vegetables!" --RJZ

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creamed spinach would fit the criteria of comfort/traditional/appropriate, but do you make it fresh, or from a box?

make it fresh and don't compromise.

did he like your homemade creamed spinach?

Yes, he did. He said it tasted "really spinachy", unlike the boxed version. :laugh:

Angela

well there ya go.

as i said, my broccoli casserole with real live cheese sauce was a big hit with the campbell's soup crowd.

my simple sausage stuffing is a big hit with the stove top crowd too.

so familiar foods done from scratch do work.


Edited by tryska (log)

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