Christmas was a roaring success! My sister and I did not fight, I was tired and stressed but kept the cracks from showing, everyone loved their gifts (yay!) and I learned some very valuable lessons. And a really good recipe!
Lesson 1: Communication is very important. Proper communication means not receiving 3 bottles of Philosophy bodywash- all lovely, to be sure, but I could swear I typed “or” rather than “and” on my Christmas list. Regardless, I like them and as an added bonus I have enough to keep me clean until 2008. Yay!
Lesson 2: Moms are moms. That’s what they do and it’s best that you not take it personally. Also, they have absolutely no sense of humor when they hear their oldest offspring yelling, “Show yer tits!” to their aunt. Never mind that their offspring was just repeating something their cousin and/or sister had already said. Rather loudly. Moms reserve the right to be annoyed and chew you out in front of everyone. Best that you let it go and have some more champagne.
Lesson 3: When it comes to shopping, go with your gut as it is rarely wrong. Everyone was happy, which made me happy too.
Lesson 4: Do not be afraid to ask for gift receipts. Folks want you to be happy. Really.
Lesson 5: When it comes to holiday dinner, simple is best.
Mom made a roast, green beans with mushrooms cooked in butter, and baked potatoes with chives and sour cream. Baked potatoes with sour cream and butter are a major indulgence in our family and we enjoyed every bite. However the roast was the big standout. It was amazing- deep pink and juicy in the center, tender and delicious. It was so good, that at one point I snuck into the kitchen and finished off the lone slice on the serving platter. With my fingers. I’m not proud, but I am happy.
My mother’s mother cooked dinners like this- in fact this roast was so much like one of hers we had to pause and reflect. My grandmother was a fantastic cook who loved us with her smile, her humor and her meals.
Dessert was fantastic. It was a Cassata alla Siciliana from that most venerable of all cookbooks- Recipes: The Cooking of Italy from Time/Life‘s Foods of the World series. No foolin’. The cassata is made with a fresh pound cake, ricotta, heavy cream, candied fruit and lots of semisweet chocolate. Mom made it in the morning and by dinner it was fragrant and “ripe” (their word, not mine) with the flavors of orange liqueur, candied lemon peel, chocolate and mild creamy cheese. Simple flavors to complement the dinner that had preceded it. Best of all, it was easily done and I will probably try my hand at it next time I have a party.
We enjoyed the cassata with dry champagne, Christmas poppers and family- who are also friends.
Cassata alla Siciliana (from the lovely folks at Time/Life published 1968 and reprinted in 1974)
1 fresh pound cake (9 inches long and 3 inches wide)
1 lb. ricotta cheese
2 tbsp heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
3 tbsp Strega or other orange liqueur
3 tbsp coarsely chopped mized candied fruit (we used lemon peel)
2 oz semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (we used Baker’s chocolate)
Slice the end crusts off the pound cake and level the top if it is rounded. Cut the cake horizontally into 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick slabs.
Rub the ricotta through a coarse sieve into a bowl with a wooden spoon and beat it with a roatary or electric beater until it is smooth. Beating constantly add the cream, sugar and orange liqueur. With a rubber spatula, fold in the chopped candied fruit and chocolate.
Center the bottom slab of the cake on a flat plate and spread it generously with the ricotta mixture. Carefully place another slab of cake on top and repeat until all the slabs are reassembled and the filling has been used up- ending with a plain slice of cake on top.
Gently press the loaf together to make it as compact as possible. Do not worry if it feels wobbly; chilling will firm the loaf. Refrigerate for about 2 hours or until the filling is firm, then frost.
Frosting (modified by Mom)
16 oz semisweet chocolate chopped
1 cup strong black coffee (regular and not too strong)
3/4 lb unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces and thoroughly chilled
Melt chocolate with coffee in a heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly until the chocolate has melted completely. Remove the pan from the head and beat in the chilled butter, 1 piece at a time. Continue beating until mixture is smooth. Then chill the frosting until it thickens to spreading consistency.
With a small spatula, spread the frosting evenly over the top, sides and ends of the cassata. Cover loosely and let the cassata “ripen” in the fridge. (Time/Life says leave it in there for 24 hours, but Mom made this around 9am and it was quite tasty about 12 hours later.)