Christmas is almost here.
And Christmas is a time for family and friends, get-togethers, parties and meals.
Oh, and I should mention that Christmas is not just one day. In the Church we call it an Octave. Eight full days to celebrate the birth of our Savior! But we don’t stop there. Eight days is a great start. But, it’s still just a start.
We’re talking about the birth of our Savior here!
In the Church we also celebrate the Christmas SEASON, which starts on Christmas Eve and goes through the celebration of the Epiphany to the shepherds and wise men. Epiphany is traditionally celebrated on January 6, but the US Bishops are free to move it to the closest Sunday. This year it will be celebrated on Sunday, January 8th.
As the season of waiting (Advent) draws to a close next week, we start to turn our attention to the immediate preparation of family gatherings.
If you’re like me, you have several gatherings over a period of a few days. It’s fun. It’s holy. It’s really a blessing. But it can also be stressful.
That’s why I am so glad that I recently discovered my new favorite cookbook, Chef John Besh’s My Family Table.
But this is different.
It’s local, first of all.
But it’s also in the family.
You see, John Besh is Catholic.
He lives not too far from me, just outside of New Orleans. I’ve met him a few times. I’ve dined in his restaurants. And I am very impressed with his work and with who he is… with what he stands for.
I’m not saying that he wears his Catholicism on his sleeve. He doesn’t. But you can tell that it influences everything that he does.
In a word, you could say that Besh is all about family. And his cookbook, My Family Table, is a home cooking manifesto. I love it.
As a matter of fact, I love it so much that I have given away several copies as gifts.
We gave away 50 cookbooks the other week.
Now I see we could also have given away “The Joy of Cooking.”
What? Eighteen million copies of “The Joy of Cooking” have been sold since it was published in 1936. (Correction: Irma Rombauer, a widow, was the first to publish it — to self-publish it — in 1931.) There is no more classic cookbook in America. Even restaurants use it. What could possibly replace it?
For the America of the 2010s: “My Family Table: A Passionate Plea for Home Cooking,” by John Besh.
Besh, for those who have not had dinner in New Orleans recently, is the movie-star-handsome Louisiana homeboy who has, at a tender age, built a six-restaurant empire. He was a Marine who kept up with foodie journals as he led troops in the first Gulf War. He is still married to his first wife. He has four kids.
After Katrina, Besh was everywhere, talking up his city. He produced a terrific cookbook: “My New Orleans.” Then he started to simplify. And to listen to his wife (never a bad idea), who said, “Yeah, but what about our kids?”
So, at last, a family-friendly cookbook, short on cooking time, shorter on preservatives and junk food substitutes. A book for the way we live now? Some chapter titles: “Sunday Supper,” “School Nights,” “Breakfast with My Boys,” “Barbeque Wisdom” and “Fried Chicken (& Other Classics).”
Here are ten reasons to fall in love with this book:
1) The first recipe is “Risotto Almost Anything.”
2) The second recipe is “Creamy Any Vegetable Soup.”
3) The third recipe is “Simple Meat Ragout for Any Pasta.”
4) The fourth recipe is “The Perfect Frittata.”
5) The fifth recipe is “Curried Anything.”
Getting the idea? Simple fare. Simply presented as master recipes, 140 in all.
6) Good advice. In a Roast Chicken recipe: “Pan drippings are pure gold. Any time you strain the liquid from the vegetables [from the roasting pan], you’ll have equal proportions of fat and natural juice. Refrigerate that for a day, and the fat will solidify and rise to the top. Remove the chicken fat and save it separately to use for making a roux or sautéing vegetables. The strained juices make a natural sauce for roast chicken, or add them to a soup for a great hit of flavor.”
7) He’s not scared of butter. In a recipe for mashed potatoes that serves ten people: an entire pound.
8) For Chicken Fricassee, he rejects skinless and boneless birds: “Not only is the flavor brought out by browning with the skin on, but the bone is the source of so much of the deep flavor of the fricassee.”
9) In an American cookbook, a recipe for pho, the Vietnamese soup.
10) The final recipe is for Lemon Ice Box Pie.
In the acknowledgments, Besh writes: “If asked what my last meal would be, I’d reply, “Any Sunday supper at home, cooked with love, for people I love.”
With this cookbook, what other answer is possible