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The Joy of Cooking

My mother didn’t host many dinner parties when I was growing up. But when I was in my 20s, she began hosting the biggest dinner event of the year – Thanksgiving. Since then, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving became known as “the scariest day of the year” in our house. Hours of manic cleaning were followed by an all-night meal prep leaving us with one stressed out, cranky mom.

I’m sure it didn’t help that my brother and I 1) offered little to no help; 2) cracked jokes and teased her the entire time; and 3) forced her to pose for pictures next to the turkey to prove that she actually made a whole meal. My father probably created the most stress for my mother by disappearing for the entire preparation process, strolling into the house mere minutes before dinner was served, and mocking her panic over getting a meal on the table for 15 people. He may have run a food business for 30 years, but he could never get Thanksgiving dinner on the table for a large group of people unless we were serving hoagies and cheese steaks.

It took me years to realize that she never had a lot of joy when it came to cooking and with the three of us harassing – how could she? Until I received some encouragement from my husband, and then eventually some friends and my mother, I found very little joy in cooking too.

Today, I am lucky enough to have a husband who wholeheartedly wants to help when we invite friends over for dinner. He will purchase last-minute ingredients and take on the cleaning. The problem is he re-cleans whatever I have already cleaned and that combined with some potentially innocent questions about the meal (i.e. :”Do we need crackers instead of the baguette you bought for this cheese plate?”) instantly turns me into my mother. I know I should be appreciative, but I usually take his interest and involvement as criticism and suddenly we’ve become my parents staring each other down for the first five minutes of our meal (or in my parent’s case – for the entire night!).

With Thanksgiving  less than a week away, we wanted to invite our neighbors over for a nice fall meal. My friend’s husband mentioned Brussels sprouts the last time we met up for dinner so I decided to make the Braised Brussels Sprouts in Mustard Sauce from one of my recent posts as a special treat for him as well as the Frozen Pumpkin Mousse Pie. The sprouts were braised well and the mustard sauce turned out one of my favorite version of this vegetable thus far.

This risotto recipe turned out quite well; however, I would probably increase the liquid on the recipe below add a little more broth depending on how dense you like your risotto. It is certainly a hearty dish – something that is important to remember when you are cooking for non-vegetarians. You definitely don’t want them to go home hungry. The risotto served the four of us and made enough leftovers for Ryan and me for the rest of the weekend. I picked up some broccoli rabe and a nice bunch of kale at the farmers market this weekend. The bitter greens rounded out the flavors of the risotto quite nicely on Saturday and Sunday.

This is probably my last post until after Thanksgiving as I’ll be taking a road trip to Pittsburgh to stay with the in-laws for a long weekend. Not sure how much cooking I’ll be doing.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Butternut Squash Risotto (Adapted from the Ina Garten/Food Network)


• 1 butternut squash (2 pounds)

 • 2 tablespoons olive oil

• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

• 6 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade (I used vegetable stock)

 • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter

• 1/2 cup minced shallots (2 large)

• 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice (10 ounces)

 • 1/2 cup dry white wine (tip: use good enough wine that you would drink)

• 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Peel the butternut squash, remove the seeds, and cut it into 3/4-inch cubes. You should have about 6 cups. Place the squash on a sheet pan and toss it with the olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes, tossing once, until very tender. Set aside. Meanwhile, heat the chicken stock in a small covered saucepan. Leave it on low heat to simmer.

In a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter and saute the shallots on medium-low heat for 10 minutes, until the shallots are translucent but not browned. Add the rice and stir to coat the grains with butter. Add the wine and cook for 2 minutes. Add 2 full ladles of stock to the rice, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Stir, and simmer until the stock is absorbed, 5 to 10 minutes.

Continue to add the stock, 2 ladles at a time, stirring every few minutes. Each time, cook until the mixture seems a little dry, then add more stock. Continue until the rice is cooked through, but still al dente, about 30 minutes total. Off the heat, add the roasted squash cubes and Parmesan. Mix well and serve.

One Comment Post a comment
  1. Fran LaSpada #

    Well this posting made me laugh and cry at the same time. You have described the “Thanksgiving Scenerio” to a tee. So happy my son-in-law is much more supportive than his father-in-law . Love those brussel sprouts!

    November 23, 2009

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