You gotta have a plan.
Yes, recipes are important, even (and maybe especially) the "little of this...little of that" type of recipe that you probably asorbed by osmosis while you were sitting around your mother's kitchen. Recipes give you the general guidelines of what tastes good, and how to cook it without poisoning anyone. But recipes are just part of a larger whole. To put together a meal, especially a holiday meal by which you will be judged for the rest of your life, you need a plan. And that plan is called a menu. It's your first step in the creation of what's going to become a sacred tradition.
Holiday menus in the Staccato household are pretty much invariable. That's because, over time, we've figured out what works together, what the kids will eat (and they still come and eat on holidays, except for my son, Nino, this year, but that's another story), what's good and easy, and what's just way too much of a pain-in-the-butt to cook under any circumstances. Before we go further, please note that "nutritional benefit" is not one of the criteria. Not that being healthy would automatically disqualify a dish from being included on the holiday menu. It's just that I take the word "holiday" literally.
And now I'm going to give you a little homework.
Written homework. Just like Sister Arnoldine in the fourth grade who really didn't like children, and with good reason. Unlike Sister Arnoldine, I'm going to recommend a little vino to accompany this project. After all, these are your opening ceremonies. You're doing the work; enjoy yourself.
You can start by counting your guests, but I'm going to skip that since I make the same amount of food - which is enormous - no matter who's coming. This year, for instance, my Nino has better things to do than have Easter with his family. (He's going to Spain, the little bastard, and he better bring me back something good.) For maybe a minute I thought about modifying the menu, but then I ran it by my daughter, Nikki, who was horrified by the idea of having her traditions messed with, so it's business as usual. No matter - you have too much food, you can always give it away or feed off of it for a week. I am so moving on.
The Staccato Easter Menu
Big-ass ham, bone-in
Egg & cheese strata
Roasted potatoes & onions
Asparagus with brown butter
Hard-boiled eggs (dyed, of course)
Easter basket (you know you still want one, Nikki)
DO cook anything you want. These are just suggestions. Good suggestions, but suggestions.
DO start your menu with your main dish, or carcass, and work around that.
DO include fruits and vegetables on your menu. Remember the Hungry Caterpillar.
DO plan on making soup with that hambone. (If you remember "hot ham water" then we can be best friends.)
DON'T start drinking until you're done working with knives.
I recommend writing (or typing) out the menu at least two weeks in advance. You won't believe how much you find you forget, and this gives your long-term memory (the only memory I have that still functions) a chance to work. Computers were made for this job. Type it, save it. Edit it, if cousin Guido's on a modified Paleo Diet and he only eats the meat he kills. Come next Easter, it's that much easier.
Notice that I put Nikki's Easter basket on the menu. That's because the important stuff (Jelly Bellies, Cadbury Cream Eggs, Peeps, did I forget something?) will all come from the grocery store. And the dye for the eggs, too.
Which is an important point, and leads us to our next step.
To be continued...