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Week 6: Experimenting in the Kitchen

For the past 10 years or so I've hosted Christmas at my house every year and give or take a few small changes here and there, I've relied on the same formula for preparation and execution. Truth be told, it took me several years, lots of lessons from my Mother-in-law, and quite a few mistakes, but now, this Jewish-American has pretty much mastered the traditional English “Christmas Dinner," and trust me when I say, my Yorkshire puddings comes out rather tasty!

This year I decided to make some changes. While some things are too good to substitute - like the Yorkshire Puddings and Roast Potatoes - this year I turned to one of my favorite Apps and typed in a simple search for, "Christmas Dinner Ideas." Suddenly I'd taken the plunge down one of those fabled internet rabbit-holes, finding myself running searches for Christmas appetizers, Christmas Desserts, and basically anything edible with Christmas in the title. As if by magic, a new Christmas menu was born.

I spent the best part of the week leading up to the big day doing my research, carefully selecting my menu, building my shopping list, purchasing the groceries; all leading up to the 25th where I spent much of the day prepping, cooking, serving, and the best part eating.

Let me first tell you, Christmas in our house doesn't just mean one big meal on Christmas Day. Christmas includes three big meals: Christmas Eve dinner, Christmas Day breakfast, and obviously Christmas Day dinner as well as some nibbles throughout the day. This year's menu included some things I didn’t even know where to buy, let alone how to cook; items like calamari tubes, duck, and multi-colored jello molds all of which had me all in a nervous spin.

Things got off to a great start with Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas Day breakfast with no major hiccups to report. We'd opened all our presents, Daniel had gone straight down for his nap, and the older kids were occupied playing with new toys and trying on new clothes. Based on the cooking times for the various items, I headed to the kitchen telling everyone dinner would be ready around 3pm

I followed my recipes to the tee, working through them one by one, but the next thing I knew, it was 3:30pm and people were starting to politely inquire about dinner. Was I finished? Not even close! The good news was we had no one else coming and nowhere else to be, so I enlisted the help of my Mom as Sioux Chef and Sister-in-law as Kitchen Expeditor, and we "rolled our sleeves up."

Finally, the Calamari Bruschetta appetizer was ready to be served and let me tell you, it was amazingly good; amazingly good like I ate one too many. Then it was time to take the foil off the duck and check the internal temperature; the first reading wasn't even 140°! We realized we still had at least another hour of cooking time ahead of us, but did that bring us down? No way! Then we noticed the upper oven wasn't quite hot enough to crisp the skin on the duck, so we pulled a few things out of the oven, gave it a chance to breathe, and crossed our fingers. Sure enough, the temperature started to climb and the duck started browning before our very eyes!

It was finally time to set the table, which meant I had to plate the multi-colored Christmas jello mold that'd been setting in the fridge since yesterday. I got out the special plate I'd bought, flipped the mold, and held my breath.... I'm not going to lie, it wasn’t strictly perfect, but it held it's shape and for the most part looked like the picture online; moreover, it tasted delicious and everyone - including all four kids - ate it and asked for seconds!

Although everything wasn't perfect, I had forgotten the Christmas crackers I purchased in November, and although the meal was 3 hours later than originally scheduled; everything was a tasty success! Did I make some mistakes along the way? Of course I did! Will I learn from those mistakes? Absolutely. Was it worth every second? 100 percent yes!

The moral of this story is don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and try new things. What's the worst that can happen? You eat a few hours later than planned? You burn the top of the overnight French toast (yes that did also happen)? The joy you get from trying something new, as well as the positive energy you feel when you hit the ball out of the park is worth all the mistakes you made along the way.

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