The Twelve Posts of Christmas Pt. 10 – Have a Seat!

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Once upon a time, my mother fell in love with a piece of furniture. For my peeps that remember the blue and white living room in our house in Randolph, you might remember the lovely needlepoint upholstered loveseat that saw many happy guests and parties. When my parents retired to the cape, the loveseat came to live with me and the Hubs, but unfortunately it needed new upholstery and for one reason or another the facelift kept slipping down the list of priorities. Finally, about a week before Thanksgiving we waved goodbye to our little loveseat and she came back with a brand new look yesterday! The Hubs redid the dressing room paint when she went away, so now all I need to do is find/order wallpaper that will show off everyone’s best features!

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The Twelve Posts of Christmas Pt. 9 – Pasta alla Norcina

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On The first full day of ” yoga pants vacation”, last Saturday, the Hubs and I were doing our best imitation of Slug 1 and Slug 2. We were channel surfing and came across America’s Test Kitchen on WGBH. We didn’t see the beginning but got sucked in nonetheless and watched Christopher Kimball and his intrepid chefs make Pasta alla Norcina. I think the beginning of the episode featured fresh made sausage, but we are NOT going there…once they assured us we could use fresh ground pork from your grocer’s meat case, I was on the case.

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The recipe starts out by having you brine the ground pork. WHOA…yes, you read that right.and here’s the strange part of the brine, it has baking soda in it! Ok, I’ll bite.

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And instead of browning crumbled sausage, you make a pork patty, brown the outside and THEN chop it up. It gets cooked in the cream, with some pasta water to thin it out.

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The recipe continues by browning mushrooms in the pork leavings, adding white wine and garlic and rosemary, putting the sausage back in and adding a truly obscene amount of cream ( hey, it’s the holidays…). The pork finishes cooking in the cream with some pasta water added as needed. Tossed with the orichiette pasta, some parsley and a little lemon juice.

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The reason for the brining is to keep the ground pork from drying out while cooking and the secret ingredient is definitely the nutmeg. This dish really showcases the cuisines of the north of Italy, closer to Austria and Switzerland than the sunny Mediterranean.

The Twelve Posts of Christmas Pt. 8 – Call the Midwife Holiday Special

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You’ll all be happy to know that “yoga pants Christmas vacation” continues with success. Success being fact that I have pegged the red zone on the entropy meter and not really done anything more physical than sweeping the kitchen floor and uncorking wine. So as not to break the spell, I’ll keep this post brief but just want to remind my Boston peeps that Call the Midwife Holiday special is on tonite ( Sunday) at 6:30 pm on Channel 2.

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If you haven’t seen this series as yet, I suggest that after tonite you get caught up via Netflix or Hulu or Amazon tout suite. It’s a marvelous, warmly directed and acted series about nurse midwives and a convent of Anglican nuns in the East End of London in the 1950’s. It’s based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth, one of the midwives and features terrific acting and great stories. Don’t forget to watch or set your DVR!

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I just want to go on record also as publicly stating that the character of Jennifer, played till now by Jessica Raines does bear an amazing resemblance to Cherry Ames, my childhood heroine!

Twelve Posts of Christmas Pt. 7 – Winter Solstice, a novel by Rosamunde Pilcher

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Easily one of my top 5 favorite books. I read it every Christmas, without fail. I love the story of being someplace snowy and foreign for Christmas with no obligations or schedule.
The novel tells the story of 5 sort of strangers thrown together by loss, new beginnings, and escapism at an old manor house in the very far north of Scotland, where snow falls heavy and blocks transit and night lowers about 3 pm. There is a kindly minister, a clattering cleaning women, accommodating local vendors, last minute parties, and sincere and simple gift giving. I also like that it was written before our current 24 hour news cycle, smart phones, and celebrity worship of the millennium.
Start your own St. Stephen’s Day / Boxing Day tradition and read it for the holidays. Then read it again next year! And the next year….

Twelve Posts of Christmas Pt. 6 – THE Christmas Story

Peace to all men….

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So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, The Lord.

The gospel of Luke

Twelve Posts of Christmas Pt. 5 – White Christmas

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Ladies and gentlemen, they don’t make them like this anymore. Seriously, there’s singing, dancing, “choreography”, sentiment, great sets, a cute story line and more.

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Bing Crosby stars with Danny Kaye as an Army captain and private at the end of WWII who form a song and dance team named Wallace and Davis, when the war is over. They find themselves moving on to producing and head to a Florida supper club in mid December to check out a sister act, the Haynes sisters ( Betty and Judy) portrayed by Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen. The two pairs travel to Vermont for a gig and find themselves trying to rescue the fate of an old inn, owned by their former commanding officer played by Dean Jaeger.

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Wallace and Davis launch an elaborate scheme to increase business for the general’s inn while reuniting their Army division on Christmas Eve. The plot of course involves mistaken intentions and people leaving on a train without telling others.

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But it’s Hollywood , so we know there is a happy ending, and director Michael Curtiz does not disappoint. Bing takes hat in hand and goes to NYC to find Betty, and make things right. They trick the general into wearing his uniform to dinner, the regiment arrives by train from all points and it starts to snow ! Cue the Irving Berlin standard, cue the open barn door, cue the knight on a horse and cue Christmas enjoyment!

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A few observations and facts:
Even though the movie bears the name of the song “White Christmas”, the song actually debuted in the movie “Holiday Inn” a full dozen years before.
The set from “Holiday Inn” was reused for “White Christmas”.
Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney are the main love interest story but there was a 25 year age difference between them at the time. Clooney was only 26 when she made the movie.
Danny Kaye could do anything…include breaking up the famously grumpy Bing Crosby, which he did during the “Sisters” performance. You can actually see Bing break character during the act.
I wish I had the velvet and fake fur concession for this movie. Costume shop definitely cornered the market for the movie. There is a velvet dress in every scene I think. The best is the forest green one that Clooney wears during the cast party.
Mary Wickes plays the housekeeper in the film and delivers some of the best lines in the movie including – “it used to be a barn, now it’s a Tyrolean haunted house”.
Vera-Ellen ( the youngest ever Rockette at 17) has the smallest waist known to womankind, surpassing Scarlett O’Hara…seriously, you can see her hip bones THROUGH her costumes..

Twelve Posts of Christmas Pt. 4 – Bring Us A Figgy Cocktail

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Start with white Sangria, 3 parts

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Add apricot liqueur ( not apricot brandy) 1 part

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Add 1 part exquisite black fig infused vodka ( small batches, made in Boston!)

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Finish with a splash of sparkling Rose!

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Then wrap yourself up in some battery operated lights ( or not) and enjoy.
Now those of you who know me, also know that my adult beverage of choice is wine. All wine, all the time, unless I’m in Mexico where I move to beer in the daytime or an occasional frozen margarita with extra salt. But Saturday nite, we went for dinner with our friends J and A, and this cocktail called Fruita Seca was on the menu. Three out of the four ingredients are some of my favorite flavors ( fig, apricot, and rose wine), so what was not to like? Absolutely nothing!

Twelve Posts of Christmas Pt. 3 – Panettone French Toast

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Years ago, my bestie L introduced me to the absolute best version of French toast you will ever have. Previously, I had always held to the stale croissant recipe, but this changed my mind. There’s really nothing different you need to do except procure a panettone, the festive holiday, fruit studded, giant sized, but lighter than air bread from Italy that you can find in almost every supermarket during the holiday season.

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Mix your eggs, cream or milk, a little vanilla (orange extract works great too, or you can add fresh orange zest to the batter) and put it into a hot non stick pan. Cook on medium heat until golden brown.

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It is so moist it doesn’t even need syrup! You can choose syrup, maybe some apricot preserves or even some fresh berries that are heated with sugar and smushed oh so slightly.

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Buon Natale!

Twelve Posts of Christmas Pt 2 – Roasted Tomato Brandy Sauce

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I’ve been sitting on this recipe that a chef peep of mine shared while we were menu planning for a client. I wanted to be able to fuss over it as needed, so waited till Sunday to get going on it.

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There are a LOT of tomatoes in this sauce. A full dozen Roma and 2 pints of cherry, but it’s not hard. In fact except for the very end, it makes itself!
Toss the tomatoes and shallots and garlic with olive oil, salt and pepper. Add the rosemary and thyme sprigs and roast at 450degrees for about 20 minutes. Add 3 tbsp of tomato paste and put back in oven for another 10 minutes or so. Add 3/4 cup of white wine, the basil and 1 1/2 cups of brandy or cognac. I love a boozy sauce…reduce by 1/2 in the oven and then take out and move to stovetop.

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At this point, if you are using a roasting pan, move everything to a saucepan, you will need the depth. Add the tomato juice and purée (recommend a stick blender here, moving to a blender could be a mess!)

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Next, strain to remove any lumps and bumps, add 2 tbsp of brandy or cognac, whisk, and finally whisk in 3 tbsp of butter.
I can see this being used for the next week or so…especially on something like a spinach turnover, pan roasted lobster tail or a homemade fried cheese stick, even a roast chicken!

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This recipe yielded about 11/2 qts, so you can definitely freeze it!