“could ya go a meatball?” -Nana Greco

My cousin sent a group text to all the cousins last week that I didn’t see right away. When I finally did there were 28 of them. After trying to get back to the beginning while laughing the whole time at the back and forth between 7 cousins across 2 continents and 3 coasts, I saw the first post. It simply read, “Could ya go a Meatball?” Please know that when you read this you should be reading it in an upstate Pennsylvanian accent and sound slightly off the boat from Italy. But an american Italia, if that makes any sense. Did you try it? Ha! That’s my Nana. Her name was Theresa.

And she fed us. Not only did she make sure we were well fed on regular visits but the family gatherings and parties were ALL about the food. Good Fresh Homemade Food. I swear that woman lived till almost 100 because she never had a preservative. But that in itself is a whole other convo that I probably will not be attempting to discuss here. Ever.

The texts sent me down memory lane for a while; particularly through family gatherings and holiday parties of my childhood on up. Food was always the star and Nana, my mom and my fabulous God-mom Mimi, always were very effortless about it. There was a ton of prep, sometimes days worth. They didn’t have Pinterest. There was no search for the perfectly “crafted” cupcake in the shape of a vintage ornament or whatever, or the most fancy pureed squash soup sprinkled with pancetta. Just passed down recipes and good food. There was also this organized chaos in the kitchen, which in my later years I learned to appreciate. Not everything was “done” exactly when the guests arrived. There was always something left to do, or help with; and always a glass of vino offered while you were helping. It was ok that not everything was perfect and it was way more fun that way. In the past 10 years or so my cousins and I have taken to hosting quite a few of these gatherings and things run pretty much the same way as they did growing up. We learned from the best. (oh, and the “best” still helps by bringing a sh#t ton of food too)

This holiday season, I am hosting a few family gatherings and will be having friends and their families over as well. I started down that Pinterest road unknowingly a couple of nights ago, just to “get some loose ideas”. Then the gorgeous pictures started to give me anxiety. Pinxiety if you will. Too pretty. Too much to choose from. GIIIIRL. PUT. THE. IPAD. DOWN.

I decided to pretend it was let’s say… 2005 again. Get out the cookbooks and recipe cards. What have I made before? What do I love to cook? What have people liked in the past? I also have a notebook that I’ve saved from pretty much every gathering I’ve had since 2001 (when I got married). It helps. Because a lot of those things I’ve made time and time again, whether it be for a party I threw or even to bring as a guest to someone else’s party.

I’ll share with you my go to books for entertaining here. They are not your typical ones though. I like a bit of inspiration and story with my cookbooks so I go for the memoir type. I also like to choose from books that have more of a family-style vibe. These days there’s rarely an occasion that the kids aren’t invited. There needs to be something for everyone and the food should look good and be inviting (and on nice plates) without being too fancy. Here are my recommendations for some good recipes and a good read:

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The Family Dinner by Laurie David. What I like about this book is that although it’s not really geared toward entertaining per say, it covers a lot of different topics.

– The family dinner and how to get everyone to eat together on a daily basis;ย The extended family dinners; Fun topics to bring up with kids at the table; Games; Cooking together.

There are some good recipes that work for both regular nights and entertaining. She kind of leaves room for editing the recipes to your taste.

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The chapters on cooking with kids and cooking with grandparents are really fun and attainable and not at all “too perfect”.

The next one is an old favorite: The Barefoot Contessa Family Style

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I got this for a wedding shower gift. It is used often. I used to be kind of obsessed with this lady. I loved watching her food network show back in the day (before Nickelodeon and International Soccer took over my TV). She always seemed to whip up a table full of food for a party in Nantucket just as her guests were arriving and sipping their first cocktail in the garden. And she ALWAYS sat down unflustered to eat with them right away. Must have been that Pinot Grigio she was sippin while roasting that cauliflower….Anyway, my faves in the book can be made for a party of 2 or 20 easily.

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Saffron Risotto with Butternut Squash. So goooood and you can easily do this with mushrooms and onions instead of the squash; give or take a little more garlic. It’s just a really good base recipe for risotto.

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And, her roasted asparagus with Parmesan (see the YES tab on the page? means I make it. A lot).

Lastly, I am not ashamed to admit that I’m completely obsessed with this book. And her blog. You should read it. Today. Dinner: A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach. This woman and her husband are awesome. http://www.dinneralovestory.com I’ve been following her for a few years now. I found her in my search to make dinner a pleasant experience for my family and I.

2010: 1 super picky kid, 1 baby who seemed to love everything if only it was pureed, and 2 working parents who had no time to cook, or shop…my story hasn’t changed much at all. Everyone is just a bit older and my daughter now can eat solid foods. Ha!

I digress, please check out the blog and book. For the purpose of this post, I love using this book for parties. There are many, easy and delicious recipes and drink recipes not to mention tips and tricks on how to pull it all together with kids in the house.

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A favorite recipe for gatherings is the pork ragout that you can put over egg noodles or do as sammies with crusty rolls and cheese.

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I also really appreciate her honesty about having a crazy schedule and pipe dreams about entertaining. It’s real, and funny and captivating. The carefree attitude and family and friends first attitude are slightly reminiscent of Ms. Julia Child.

Speaking of, I HIGHLY recommend Julia’s memoir: My Life in France. What an inspiring woman. I hope this post inspires you to maybe put down the tech and grab a book. a cookbook, a memoir, a cooking magazine, or an old family recipe for your holiday gatherings this year ๐Ÿ˜‰

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