December is when Mary's dad, Joe, flies down from Milwaukee to spend the holidays with us.
We always look forward to his visit. We eat a lot of food, watch a lot of movies.
Here's our schedule this year:
Thursday, December 20
Romano's Shrimp and Artichoke Dip with Garlic Croutons
Joe's flight lands late afternoon at DFW. By the time we get through traffic back to our home, usually with several wrong turns (my fault), we really just want a good talk around the breakfast nook table, catching up, followed by a light supper and a movie. Romano's Shrimp and Artichoke Dip is perfect. Mary and I pick it up at the restaurant earlier in the day, then reheat it in the oven while the three of us talk. Dream Girls is a good movie to start the visit: Given the season, we're mostly looking for funny, sentimental, and/or heartwarming films. Each night, halfway through that evening's film, we have an intermission where we repair to the breakfast nook and have a bowl of Blue Bell vanilla ice cream, topped with Chambord plum liquor.
Friday, December 21
Eggs Benedict with Cottage Fries
Mary's Sea Scallops
Avocado Halves with Blue Cheese Dressing
We start the first full day of Joe's visit with his two favorite meals: Eggs Benedict and Mary's Sea Scallops. Both meals are prepared by Mary, with me as humble sous chef. The recipe for Eggs Benedict is located here. The recipe for Mary's Sea Scallops is located here.
Saturday, December 22
Chicken Fried Steaks
Green Beans with Bacon and Garlic
Shrek the Third
I love club sandwiches. I used to have them as a little boy at Bob Force's Townhouse in Greenwich, Connecticut. I was fascinated by how tall the sandwich was (it uses three, not two, slices of bread), so tall each cut quarter has to be secured with a toothpick. Now that's elegance! The recipe is here. Chicken Fried Steaks is another Mary meal. I came up with the Green Beans with Bacon and Garlic dish a few years ago, after some enjoyable experimentations at the stove.
Sunday, December 23
Eggs Over Easy
Buttered Rye Toast
There's something really, really good about a classic diner breakfast, and here we recreate it. When I was young, my mother used to always serve eggs "sunnyside up", but then somehow, I forget how, I was exposed to eggs cooked "sunnyside down", meaning the egg is flipped over in the skillet towards the end, so both sides are cooked. It's sooo much better, and came as a revelation to me. If you don't like something, you can usually change it. An important lesson for a kid to learn. Ham goes perfectly with eggs, because when you cut into the yolks, you can then swirl a forkful of smoky ham into the warm yellow yolk for a perfect marry of flavors. Instead of anonymous circular slices of ham, we use thick slices cut off a full ham, with lots of fat and flavor. And buttered rye toast is so much better than white or whole wheat toast. Try it!
Monday, December 24
Grilled Ham and Cheese Sandwiches with Lettuce and Tomato
Scaloppine Di Vitello Con Funghi e Peperoni
Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe
For brunch, we try to alternate between egg dishes and sandwiches. We also try to introduce some new dishes each year, which we first do, this year, with Scaloppine Di Vitello Con Funghi e Peperoni, and Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe. The first is a delicious veal scaloppini dish, with red bell peppers, wine, mushrooms and prosciutto; the second combines pasta with broccoli rabe, in a flavorful sauce.
Tuesday, December 25
Joan's Christmas Bread
Prime Rib Roast
Pan Roasted Vegetables
Au Jus Sauce
The Pursuit of Happyness
Joan's Christmas Bread is a tradition with us. We've made it each Christmas since Joe started staying with us over the holidays, in the nineties. The bread is a sweetened bread, flavored with saffron, molded on a cookie sheet in the stylized shape of a Christmas tree, more a flat sculpture than a traditional loaf bread, only about one inch high when baked. Each bough has a ball of alternating red and green cherries. Having prime rib roast on Christmas is also a tradition with Mary and me, going back nearly thirty years.
Wednesday, December 26
Eggs Benedict with Cottage Fries
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
Mexican Home Delivery
Live Free or Die Hard
Since Joe likes Eggs Benedict so much, we serve it three times during his visit. We review movies during the year for the ones we think would be most appropriate for his visit, then Joe adds whatever other suggestions he has, one of which was The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, which all of us were aware of, but had never seen. The dialog is sung. We're looking forward to it. Mexican home delivery is a tradition we started a few years ago, at Joe's suggestion, to give us a night off from cooking. We order from Emiliano's, a great restaurant in town. Their Chile Poblanos are incredible.
Thursday, December 27
Whole Maine Lobster
Corn on the Cob
I make a really rich quiche lorraine. The recipe is here. We always have whole lobsters one night during the holidays, usually in the three to four pound category. I love the freshness of them, and pulling apart the thorny shells to get to the wonderful white and red meat. We don't bother with a lot of side dishes, because who's going to take time out to eat potatoes or peas, radicchio or rice, when they have a huge, steaming lobster on their plate? The corn on the cob is a nice, buttery buddy to the richness of the lobsters.
Friday, December 28
Steak and Pepper Sandwiches
Steamed Littleneck Clams
Deep Fried Shrimp with Cocktail and Mustard Sauces
Deep-Fried Onion Rings
Steak and pepper sandwiches are my favorite sandwich. The recipe is here. While we're in Dallas the day before to pick up the lobsters, we also get a seven pound bag of littleneck clams, which we steam and serve with bowls of their broth and bowls of melted butter. Again, I can (and do) eat dozens and dozens of them. The flavor is incredible, better than any other seafood. You really get a taste of the ocean.
Saturday, December 29
Bagels with Cream Cheese and Fresh-Brined Green Olives
Andouille Sausage and Chicken Gumbo
Zucchini and Tomato Casserole
For Your Consideration
Central Market in Dallas has extraordinarily good green olives stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes. The flavor is absolutely sublime. I could eat dozens of them. They pair perfectly with toasted bagels, and cream cheese. Andouille Sausage and Chicken Gumbo is a dish I cook each year on my birthday. It's delicious.
Sunday, December 30
Beef and Mushroom Omelet
Red Bell Pepper Casserole
Days of Heaven
While Mary and I were still living in California, we stopped for breakfast one day at a restaurant in Los Angeles, during one of our weekend car trips, and discovered the Beef and Mushroom Omelet. The unusual pairing of egg with beef gravy works really well. Mary later recreated the dish at home, and we've been enjoying it ever since. Sunday Gravy is the traditional Italian sauce that's cooked all day with a variety of meats simmered in the sauce, including pork ribs, sausages, veal, and homemade meatballs, then served with pasta. Days of Heaven was another one of Joe's choices.
Monday, December 31
Philly Cheese Steak Sandwiches
Hot Cheese Chicken
Choice of White Rice or Crazy Rice
Summer Squash with Southwestern Flavors
A Night at the Museum
A Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich is one of those recipes that sound so simple you assume it isn't that good - pounded squares of sirloin steak combined with caramelized, chopped onions and provolone cheese - but in fact it's absolutely delicious. The recipe for Hot Cheese Chicken, one of our favorite meals, along with Mary's Sea Scallops, is located here. Crazy Rice is my own invention: White rice combined with chicken broth, butter, salt, pepper (black, white, red), garlic powder, and finely chopped jalapeño, onion, garlic, celery and grill-blackened Anaheim chilies. Wow, that's good!
Tuesday, January 1
Two for the Road
Short Ribs Braised in Port Wine
Red Beans and Rice
Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Thyme
Mary McMuffins are a take on McDonald's Egg McMuffins, but soooo much better. We eat Red Beans and Rice every New Years Day to bring us good luck throughout the next year. We buy the dish from Popeye's before Joe's visit, and freeze it. Two for the Road was Joe's selection.
Wednesday, January 2
Colonel Sandwiches, based on the Kentucky Fried Chicken sandwiches, feature half a chicken breast pounded flat, covered in a seasoned coating, fried in oil. The breast is served in a warmed hamburger bun with Miracle Whip and dill pickle chips. Lobster Thermidor is the most difficult dish we prepare each year, because it calls for an emulsified sauce that has to be turned into a custard.
Thursday, January 3
Mexican Home Delivery
McCabe and Mrs. Miller
McCabe and Mrs. Miller was Joe's final selection for our movies. I love this film. There were a lot of great movies made during the seventies (not so many since), and this was one of the best. The overlapping dialog, the slow pace, the violent third act, the way it ends.
Friday, January 4
Scrambled Eggs, Bacon, and Toast
Grilled Lamb Chops
Broccoli with Orange Au Gratin Topping
While Mary and I lived in Santa Barbara, we used to go at least once each week to the Famous Fish Enterprise restaurant, located just south of Highway 101, near the beach. They pioneered mesquite cooking, but also had incredible sides, including Potatoes Romano, mashed potatoes mixed with a healthy dose of romano cheese, then baked in a pan with heavy sprinklings of paprika on top. The one movie we wanted to show this year, but which still isn't available on DVD (it was supposed to be released, then that got canceled, for reasons unknown), is Under the Yum Yum Tree, starring Jack Lemmon, one of the best of the classic sixties Technicolor comedies. Maybe next year.
Saturday, January 5
Eggs Benedict with Cottage Fries
We end as we began, with Mary's marvelous Eggs Benedict.
Mary and I spend a lot of time before Joe's visit testing recipes, which got me thinking about some of the great comfort foods we make. I've listed quite a few recipes for them under Essays, Friends Before Food. Go to Mommy Food if you could use a little comfort.