Balancing the Butterball and bûche de Noël - round one
December 24th, 2010
01:00 PM ET
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Abigail Bassett is a Senior Producer with CNNMoney.com. She lives in New York with her husband and two very helpful dogs who clean up all her cooking messes. This is her first in a two-part series as Abigail tackles her first joint family Christmas dinner.

"And the lion shall lay down with the lamb..." - or in my case, the foodies shall cook for the conventional foodies, and none shall order pizza.

I've got a confession to make: I've been dreading Christmas since Thanksgiving. Well actually, Christmas dinner to be exact.

I know, I know, bah-freaking-humbug - but hosting my first combined family holiday has sent me rummaging through cabinets and family recipes for days. Upending plans for a mellow holiday and sending me (and my poor husband) into a tizzy.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all about family holidays and tradition. In fact, I really like my family’s Christmas tradition: A big turkey dinner with mashed potatoes and stuffing is like a dream Thanksgiving do-over. My husband’s Italian family however, does things very differently - and that’s where the issue arises.

I've been a self proscribed "foodie" most of my life, thanks to a couple of aspiring gourmand parents who insisted on making lots of delicious goodies (Cheese soufflé! Homemade doughnuts!) from scratch.  My in-laws, in contrast, fall more into the land of what I like to call "convenience" foodies. They like good food, they just like it quickly and easily.

The best example I can give you is an average dinner at our respective houses.  My husband and I cook at home pretty regularly and we try cuisines from all over the world. An average night for us consists of made-from-scratch pork tamales or homemade date, habanero and goat cheese pizza. Whereas my in-laws prefer their local pizzeria, a quick bite from McDonald's or food from the local Chinese restaurant. While my Italian in-laws are all great cooks in their own right (I can’t touch my mother-in-laws fettuccine alfredo or her meatballs and “gravy”– aka sauce), they gravitate towards "the quicker, the better” food realm.

Since our marriage almost four years ago, my husband (and his friends) have reaped the rewards of my penchant for the personally made.  This year, as a result of the years of decent cooking, he has chivalrously volunteered me for Christmas dinner duty.

Panic attack.

So here I am at my kitchen table, trying to figure out how to bring these two holiday traditions together. My in-laws love Butterball; I’m an organic turkey kinda gal. My mother-in-law suggested Pillsbury Crescent Rolls; my husband wrinkled his nose and said,“Can’t you make the ones your sister makes from scratch?”

How in the world do you combine homemade spiked cranberry relish with broccoli casserole topped with saltines? Does tomato and mozzarella salad really go with sausage stuffing? Oh, and I’ve decided to try an old and very complicated family recipe, with a little help from Julia Child, for bûche de Noël - which has affectionately become known as the "Cow Pie” in my family because, well, it can potentially end up looking just like one.

So far I’ve got an organic, free-range turkey with homemade stuffing and gravy, my mother’s spiked cranberry relish, mashed potatoes with truffle oil (in the hopes that my father-in-law will like it), homemade corn muffins (croissants from scratch in a house with only one oven, ain’t happening), a HoneyBaked Ham (yes, from HoneyBaked.com in an effort at compromise) and my coup de grâce (fingers crossed), the bûche de Noël.

My in-laws are bringing various store-bought appetizers and Italian bakery desserts: the broccoli casserole, an apple pie from a local deli (that makes the hands down best apple pie, ever) and my mother-in-law and I are making her family’s fettuccine alfredo from scratch.

So, this is my Christmas Challenge: Can I successfully get my in-laws to bite into my foodie tendencies without making them wish for a Butterball (or having to order pizza)?

Come back on Monday to see if Abigail was successful in her Christmas Challenge. In the meantime, if you have any defensive strategies, share them in the comments. After all, it is the season of giving.



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soundoff (28 Responses)
  1. magster

    Being a real Italian and thinking of the times past and still carried on – there is no limit to the amount of cooking done by scratch as was done in as long as I can remember and I'm 63 – yes some American tradition has been added but it also is made from scratch .

    December 27, 2010 at 6:56 am |
  2. celyta

    Simply enjoy the company no matter what kind of food it is. I was on the opposite side from You . i was on charge of the mashed potatoes at my in laws. which i usually make from scratch with fresh potatoes from the farm! this is potato season! but with a new born. a 3 year old. a husband out of town and some other inconvenients this year ., my husband came at the last minute and bought some mashed potatoes from a fast food restaurant. I was embarrassed but everybody took it lightly and enjoyed. I love my family in law!:) everybody has different reasons and choices make your holiday a reason to share amd enjoy each others differences!

    December 27, 2010 at 12:25 am |
  3. Summer

    I had to laugh at your article. For our Christmas dinner we had a Butterball turkey, honey-baked ham (from the honey-baked ham store), and pillsbury crescent rolls. Add the potato salad, jumbo shrimp, and much more too. Next year someone else better cook, lol.

    December 26, 2010 at 11:39 pm |
  4. Ed.

    "I've been a self proscribed "foodie" most of my life".

    Did the meaning of the word "proscribe" change recently?

    December 26, 2010 at 10:07 pm |
  5. Evil Grin

    I don't really see the problem here, I think. It sounds like your in-laws enjoy good food, but just opt for the quicker versions to save time, effort or money. I know this is late, but I have a feeling that your in-laws enjoyed your food just as much as their own. Maybe even more.

    I find most people prefer homemade versions of all sorts of things, cheeseburgers, pizza, cookies, etc. Ultimately they just don't know how to cook, or don't feel like taking the time for it, so opt for the instant food instead. I, myself, do this often. I can make all sorts of things from scratch and often do, but just as often I decide it's not worth the time or expense that day and opt for something faster or cheaper.

    I hope things went well for you.

    December 26, 2010 at 3:42 pm |
    • Evil Grin

      Oh yeah. Got carried away there and forgot my point. I often take the easy way out, but I ALWAYS appreciate eating the homemade foods of others. Just because I don't always eat great, doesn't mean I don't enjoy it when someone else bakes it and gives me some. I actually appreciate it more.

      December 26, 2010 at 3:44 pm |
      • Marika

        Agree with you. As long as the foodies I am visiting do not ask me to help out in the kitchen. If people choose to cook a meal for 8 hours, power to them, but don't make me miserable by association or guilt me into helping you if I'd be perfectly fine eating a meal that only took one hour to prepare. The selfish kitchen tyranny needs to end.

        December 26, 2010 at 4:28 pm |
      • Anon_e_mouse

        Marika, to each his (or her) own, but with the noted exception of one friend's kitchen, I'm always delighted to be asked to help. I'm not an über-foodie, but I do enjoy the opportunity to watch and learn – often by doing, when asked to help – other people's techniques. Some I adopt, some I don't, but I might never have known about those techniques if I hadn't spent time in the kitchen helping. A lot of time they're the "tricks of the trade" that enable something to be done more efficiently, and make what could be a daunting task much more pleasant.

        December 26, 2010 at 8:00 pm |
  6. Susan

    I bet your in-laws are thin and you and your husband have weight troubles. You are fixated on food. Your in-laws, although they like it, do not center their lives around it, and if there are more important things to do (like enjoying each others company at holidays, for instance), they go for the convenience foods. Please don't teach your kids that food is so important or they will have weight problems, too.

    December 26, 2010 at 12:48 pm |
  7. annew

    I'm sorry but turkey is simply wretched for a holiday meal. There are much better alternatives, ranging from a standing rib roast, to a crown lamb roast, even to a ham. The "debate" between Butterball and organic is the wrong argument about the wrong item of food.
    Souffles and soup do not a "foodie" make. They simply make a competent cook who stays out of the convenience aisle of the grocery store.
    and if you really want to be "old world" - you don't make the dessert. the corner bakery makes the dessert. No one else can get the oven hot enough to make them come out right. Sometimes in the US, we stress making the wrong things, in order to look clever.

    December 26, 2010 at 2:16 am |
    • mikeb1

      Man I can't believe how incredibly bourgeois many of the posters here come off.

      December 26, 2010 at 12:10 pm |
  8. emily stuart

    @Mikie, take a Midol and chill. you know us girls can multitask and we love a challenge. Abigail, fix what you want and let the chips fall where they may.

    December 26, 2010 at 1:07 am |
  9. Mikie

    What are you some sort of a nut case???
    Do what YOU WANT to do and who cares what others think!! After all is said and done – who do you live with and more importantly, who do you really need to make happy?

    Sounds like you're one of those that "needs approval" from everyone before you can make up your own mind...

    Duh.... such a dumb situation and so typical of a stupid female mentality..

    December 25, 2010 at 5:45 pm |
    • mikeb1

      This sounds like the post of a selfish, delusionally self agrandizing, masogenist. You might not be one, but you sound like one here.

      December 26, 2010 at 12:07 pm |
    • joemamma

      Mikie,

      you're a douche bag

      December 26, 2010 at 7:38 pm |
  10. Marika

    First World Problem... must be nice.

    December 25, 2010 at 3:32 pm |
  11. Cindy

    I hear you on the mixing of cuisines for big holidays. I have an even bigger gap. Imagine my frustration at trying to prepare Thanksgiving dinner for my husband and some of his Bangladeshi relatives. At first I prized this occasion as my one chance to cook totally traditional American cuisine. After they have become, ahem, comfortable, now I get requests like 'can't you curry the turkey?'. Meaning I should cut it into small pieces and make it oily and spicy. They do like mashed potatoes and stuffing. My husband ends-up making a curried meat dish on the side. Arrrggghhh!

    December 25, 2010 at 2:43 pm |
    • geocentric

      Oh that one's easy... serve a curry sauce (gravy) on the side. Try some new "traditions" to go along with the old. We often spice turkey and chicken with a dry rub of curry powder, garlic powder, cayenne and Chinese 5 spice before roasting. It's not "hot" but is very flavorful !

      December 25, 2010 at 9:29 pm |
    • boko

      Sounds way better than plain old turkey to me. And I'm American.

      December 26, 2010 at 5:36 pm |
  12. Kat

    I tend to agree with Marco (minus the "snooty" remark). Go with what you like. Let them bring what they life. Everyone is happy and I guarantee the food will disappear. If it doesn't all the more to enjoy the next day as leftovers. When I was still cooking huge meals for tons of guests, the day after was the best day in the world for me. I could (and did) spend the entire day in my PJs, snacking on leftovers while I lounged around reading and watching TV. It was wonderful. I long for those days now that my family is gone. Enjoyment is the key.

    December 25, 2010 at 1:23 am |
  13. Marco Rolssi

    Looks look you're on a downhill run. Your pasta alfredo (from scratch as you say) is totally American. It was invented in New York. It isn't Italian at all, although you can find it in touristy restaurants in Italy because Americans expect it! My advice: drop your snooty attitude and enjoy what you like, whether it's made at home, it's invented in America and pretended to be something else, or just bought. Happy holidays to you!

    December 24, 2010 at 9:06 pm |
    • Tim

      For the record, mixing butter and cheese with pasta is a very Italian thing to do. My grandmother used to make it in Campli, Italy and she continued the same tradition here when she arrived at the age of 16. Calling it Alfredo was a restaurant owners idea, but the dish it is not "totally American."

      December 25, 2010 at 10:49 am |
      • Claire

        Funny, because having spent years in Italy, I never once saw anything that even remotely resembled pasta Alfredo, except in one or two ultra touristy restaurants. Just mixing cheese and butter, as Italians indeed do (for children usually), does absolutely not result in anything like Alfredo. Why even Italian Americans would claim it's an 'Italian family recipe' is a mystery to me.

        December 26, 2010 at 10:32 pm |
  14. fuyuko

    While I like exotic food, I also like everday food, so I can't say I'm a food snob. The best thing you can do is compromise. Serve what you like, and let them bring what they like.

    December 24, 2010 at 7:39 pm |
  15. Joe Blow

    Well you have to start training them sometime, better now then never. My wifes side of the family is the same way, pizza & kfc buckets. Gotta love free range turkeys & heirloom veggies.

    December 24, 2010 at 5:10 pm |
  16. Anon_e_mouse

    Sounds like you have a real dilemma on your hands, much as we do around our house at Passover! But for Christmas our family is in perfect agreement: like so many Jews all over the world, we'll go out for Chinese :-)

    December 24, 2010 at 4:34 pm |
  17. Justin Zbell

    Haha Abby, I have faith in you, but I think Tim owes you a vacation!

    December 24, 2010 at 4:14 pm |
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