Family Style: Xmas Eve Eve Dinner 2012

Last year, my family kicked off a new Holiday tradition of sharing a meal on Christmas Eve Eve at my house in South Philly. With so much running around on Christmas Day, it’s nice to gather with just my parents, sister and our boyfriends without having to rush off to the next gathering. This year, Dre’s mom joined us from Baltimore and it really felt like the family was complete.

Someone, however, was missing this holiday season… my lovely Grandma. On December 20th, she passed away peacefully in her sleep. It’s still too fresh of a heartache for me to share very much right now, however the food love she inspired in me certainly shines through in this year’s Xmas Eve Eve dinner, from the Dutch oven I used to the trivets & tablecloth. I know she was there with me in the kitchen all weekend.

And so I present, my Xmas Eve Eve Dinner Menu 2012:

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Oven Poached Salmon w. Pink Grapefruit & Tarragon Sauce

Emeril’s Potluck: Comfort Food with a Kicked Up Attitude – Recipe

Cider-Brined Roasted Turkey w. Star Anise & Cinnamon

Bon Appétit November 2011 pg 94 – Recipe

Butternut Squash & Corn Bread Stuffing Muffins

Food & Wine: Michael Symon’s Heartland Thanksgiving Menu November 2011 – Recipe

Caramelized Onion Scalloped Yukon Gold & Sweet Potatoes

Adapted from two recipes:

Bon Appétit November 2008 – Recipe #1

Bon Appétit December 2012 – Recipe #2

Broiled Asparagus w. Lemon-Shallot Vinaigrette

Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook

Sautéed Shiitake, Cremini & Buna Shimeji Mushrooms

Julia Childs’ Mastering the Art of French Cooking

Generic Brown & Serve Dinner Rolls

I’m only one woman!

I put the rest of the fam in charge of booze, hors d’oeuvres, & dessert once again. Dad & Mary Ann are always on point with their beer & wine selection. Im polishing off the final, and aptly named, Evil Twin Before, During and After Christmas Beer as I type. Kerry & Rich made mini crab cakes, citrus-goat cheese endive and classic lil smokies & BBQ sauce. Dessert was a selection of cakes including an out-of-this-world Yule Log filled with fresh strawberries that Dre’s mom brought and Kerry’s chocolate chip bread pudding a la mode. And another holiday feast has come and gone…

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

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Family Style: Xmas Eve Eve Dinner Preview

Tis the season to eat our asses off (or on, for that matter)! This year, I’m excited to be cooking dinner for my family and hosting at my house. I can’t deny, though, that cooking for 6 is making me a bit anxious when I’m so used to cooking for 2. This is the perfect time for my event planning skills to kick in and I’m deep into recipe research, grocery lists, and timelines. Even though I usually cook from my own intuition, I realized I have to rely on some trusted recipes for as foolproof of a plan and meal as possible. And so I present, my Xmas Eve Eve Dinner Menu 2011:

Roast Beef Tenderloin w. Caesar Crust

Bon Appétit December 2011 pg 103 – Recipe

Cider-Brined Roasted Turkey w. Star Anise & Cinnamon

Bon Appétit November 2011 pg 94 – Recipe

Gnocchi Gratin w. Gorgonzola Dolce

Bon Appétit December 2011 pg 92 – Recipe

Brussels Sprouts & Butternut Squash w. Bacon Vinaigrette

Williams-Sonoma Thanksgiving: A Holiday Guide 2010 – Recipe

Glazed Carrots

Williams-Sonoma Thanksgiving: A Holiday Guide 2010 – Recipe

No-Knead Onion Rolls

Real Simple November 2011 pg 250 – Recipe

I put the rest of the fam in charge of booze, hors d’oeuvres, & dessert. I’ll report back once I’ve recovered from the Xmas gluttony.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Family-Style: Grandma’s Ham Sandwich

I love my Grandma and I have such a deep food love because of her. Some may call it sacrifice, but I consider her life-long dedication to feeding others a home-cooked meal a true, honest labor of love. Stories of prized fresh cream skimmed from the top of milk; years of entertaining trustees at The Hill School; the freshest, purest applesauce in all the universe – no matter the menu, she insisted that hard work and integrity were the best ingredients.

Something about a Grandma’s touch makes even the simplest of meals taste even better and, these days, her 90-year-old hands can only do so much. You can’t visit Grandma without being offered a snack and, on this trip, she was so proud to make me and Gramps ham & mustard sandwiches. Built with the sincerest food love, I savored the best ham & mustard sandwich I’ve ever tasted. Thank you, Grandma. Thank you for everything you’ve ever done for me.

Restaurant Rewind: Max Brenner & the Family

The weekend before Mom’s Day, my sister & I met up with my parents for Sunday dinner. Kerry decided on Max Brenner, a global chain focused on inspiring a new “chocolate culture.” Many a man has named a restaurant after himself and this bald guy seemed a bit suspect. But in the spirit of celebrating Mary Ann’s birthday, it made sense to give our family chocolate lover an indulgent experience. And that is was!

The menu consisted of familiar items with a “Max Brenner Chocolate Culture” twist. It was hard to focus on savory dinner items with a bible of chocolatey confections tempting you, so we made up our minds on dessert before placing our dinner order. I ordered the Veggie Conscious Burger. The soft, herb-flavored patty topped with tomato & avocado engulfed a brioche bun smeared with avocado-cilantro mayo. chili-chocolate powder dusted waffle fries with some yummy spiced mayo dipping sauce sat opposite  on the long oblong wooden serving plank. My dad ordered The Brenner Burger and we loved both!

NOTE: 2 pickle spears and I didn’t even have to ask!

Veggie Conscious Burger @ Max Brenner

Dad & I decided to share a side dish as well and were fully impressed with the Black & Tan Beer Battered Vidalia Onion Rings w. Dark Chocolate Ranch. You heard that right – time to get some chocolate Ranch dip in your life!

Black & Tan Beer Battered Vidalia Rings w/ Dark Chocolate Ranch Dressing @ Max Brenner

Kerry was underwhelmed by the fish tacos, but Mary Ann seemed to really enjoy her Deep Bleu Cobb Salad. A sampling on my part deemed it quite tasty & crisp. Rabbit food (complete with ears) done right!

Deep Bleu Cobb Salad @ Max Brenner

Now, on to the important stuff, CHOCOLATE! We were quick to place our dessert order since our minds were already made up. Spoons in hand, the four of us waited for our two selections to arrive. Mary Ann went with the Melting Chocolate Heart, a classic chocolate bomb with a oozing raspberry filling, for a tart & rich end to a great meal.

Melting Chocolate Heart @ Max Brenner

I chose my favorite approach to a dessert crepe – Banana & Hazelnut – finished with a side of ice cream, berries & molten chocolate syrup. Took me back to the La Crêperie truck of my Temple days. I loved it –  every last bite & every moment with the fam!

Banana & Hazelnut Cream Crepe @ Max Brenner

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MARY ANN!

Family-Style: Jack Frost Ski Patrol Chili Cookoff

I can’t believe in less than a week I went from chillaxin on the beaches of Hawai’i to snowboarding in the Poconos! This past weekend, we had a long-overdue reunion of the Lamberts. My parents, sister, & I met up with my Uncle Jay, Aunt Coleen, and cousins, Parker & Mason, for a day on the slopes of Jack Frost mountain. They’re on the ski patrol, we planned to end the  day at the patrol’s lodge for their annual Mexican Fiesta & Chili Cook-off. We all know I love to cook and have a killer chili recipe, so I certainly couldn’t resist entering the competition!

The Contenders - Front, Right, Stainless Steel = MINE!

In total, there were about 12 different chilis ranging from BBQ to all bean to chicken. My dad contributed a Sweet & Smokey Turkey Chili while I plugged in a crock-pot of my Chipotle Turkey Chili. I was pretty impressed with the perfect balance of flavor & late spice with its added texture from hunks of spicy smoked turkey sausage. It was fun to overhear people’s comments on it (too spicy, not spicy enough, Mmmmm!) as the challenge was somewhat anonymous, but I knew I had a fighting chance when I noticed quite a few people going back for seconds!

The Chili Aftermath

After endless taco dips, margaritas, & Negro Modelos, it was time to announce the winner. And I WON!! The prize was (2) tickets to the Ski Patrol’s end of year dinner, so I, of course, passed that token on to my aunt & uncle. Sunday, I woke up well-rested, beaming with chili pride, and surrounded by the love of family, the delicious smell of bacon & pancakes, & a winter wonderland. I truly couldn’t have asked for more…

Ice Princess

P.S. Beyond feeling accomplished by my chili WIN, I managed to not fall after a 2 year hiatus from snowboarding (sans ugly dismounts from the ski lift just about every time) AND I ice skated on the beautiful glassy lake in front of the house without falling either. Yay for unexpected balance!

A Very Foodie Xmas

My lasting holiday memories revolve around the meals I share with loved ones. I started this Christmas with my parents, older sister, & Dre enjoying an amazing Italian 7 Fish Dinner at Trattoria Da Pino in Secaucus, NJ.  Pino always delivers on food, portions, & service, especially this Christmas Eve. The night turned into 4.5 hours  of savoring 14 delicious Italian dishes, 5 bottles of wine, & wonderful company!

Fresh Mozzarella, Tomatoes, & Roasted Red Peppers at Trattoria da Pino - Dish 2 of 14

The food love showed in my xmas gifts, too! My parents got me the Perfect Brownie Baking Pan and two boxes of mix. I may even make a batch tonight while I blog. Dre’s gifts to me were true to the food theme, as well. I’ve been in the market for a simple home deep fryer and planned to rely on a trusty ol’ Fry Daddy model that my mom used. I guess now that it’s 2010, it’s time to step it up with the amazing Cool Daddy Deep Fryer that I received. As soon as we decide on the right thing to fry first, we’ll certainly be christening it!

I give Dre a near heart attack weekly with my clumsiness in the kitchen. My hands are drawn to all things sharp and scalding, but now I’ll have a little protection (and he’ll have some peace of mind!). I LOVE the electric blue silicone fingertongs and two bright red lovehandles from Fusion Brands that he gave me. I was even more stoked when I opened a matryoshka doll. The Russian nesting doll called M-Cups from Fred Flare functions as a set of dry measuring cups, with each half doll ranging from 1/4 cup to 1 cup. Looks like I have a new kitchen mascot!

Matryoshka Measuring Cups

Dre also graced me with a gold Chef’s Knife Necklace from the trashydeluxe store on Etsy that I’ve been coveting through half of 2009. It hangs on a long, wispy chain and reminds me daily of what (and who) I love most. Twas a very foodie xmas… and finally a new year!

Restaurant Rewind: Swift Half for Game Day

I took a momentary hiatus from blogging as my priorities shifted a bit over the last month or so. Tonight’s priority, however – watching the Eagles on the couch with Lexi. Less than two minutes into the game tonight, DeSean Jackson ran 67yds for a touchdown. At the risk of sounding cliche, it made me think maybe it’s time for me to get back in “the game.” I luckily had an easy return with a blog post already drafted about a perfect September day enjoying my utmost priorities! GO EAGLES!

It was about time for Dre to meet the parents, so we planned a sunny Sunday afternoon to watch the Eagles game in Philly. We met at the Piazza at Schmidt’s, knowing Dad was interested in seeing the new hip spot in the city. Food and drink is an important part of family time so we snagged an outdoor table  at Swift Half with a perfect view of the Piazza’s jumbotron tv . After a round of beers and conversation, my sister Kerry joined us just in time to place our lunch order. Dre matched Kerry’s request of a B.E.L.T, stacked accordingly with an over-medium fried egg. I went with their Traditional Burger, served medium-rare with Applewood Smoked Bacon & Colston Bassett Stilton. Their fresh, shoestring cut Idaho fries paired with the sandwiches may now be in my top ranking in the city, just under Misconduct’s.

B.E.L.T. - Swift Half

B.E.L.T. - Swift Half

Burger from Swift Half

Traditional Burger with Applewood Smoked Bacon & Colston Bassett Stilton

Dad doesn’t front when it comes to his love of Scrapple, retelling stories of making homemade batches at Penn State. Swift Half managed to serve it in a most appetizing way for a non-fan like me – battered, fried triangles paired with a Maple Ketchup & Potato Hash. Mary Ann, the biggest Eagles’ fan I know, went with an epitomous game day snack of Potato Skins with Applewood Bacon crumbles, Melted Cheddar, & an Herb-Mayo dipping sauce. We all shared the Fudge Board for dessert highlighting Bacon Fudge, Vanilla Fudge, & Pistachio Fudge.

Despite an embarrassing loss by the Eagles, it ended up being a fantastic Sunday afternoon relaxing, laughing, & eating with the most important people in my life.  We even enjoyed seconds with Swift Half’s tender and tasty Buffalo Shrimp, which were eaten too fast for me to snap a pic! And no lie, now less than 2 minutes to halftime and there goes DeSean Jackson with another touchdown. All these great memories of food, family, & football – I think I’m officially back in the game.

Scrapple, Potato Hash, & Maple Ketchup - Swift Half

Scrapple, Potato Hash, & Maple Ketchup - Swift Half

Bacon & Cheese Potato Skins - Swift Half

Bacon & Cheese Potato Skins - Swift Half

Bacon Fudge, Vanilla Fudge, & Pistachio Fudge - Swift Half

Bacon Fudge, Vanilla Fudge, & Pistachio Fudge - Swift Half

Check out Swift Half’s Website and Twitter. Yum!