Put three sisters and their mother in a kitchen together around the holidays and most people would expect extra helpings of drama to result. But that’s not the case for Tracy Pollan’s family. “We’re used to working together, so we have a natural flow of what happens,” says the actress, 54, who collaborates with her mom, Corky, 85, and sisters Lori, 58, and Dana, 51, every holiday to cook up a family feast. “My mother is definitely the captain of the ship. She is in charge of the protein. My sisters and I will then divvy up the vegetables and the salad. My sister-in-law will make a dessert. The kids will be involved in mashing potatoes. Everybody has their role.” Even Pollan’s husband, actor Michael J. Fox, 53, knows where he falls in the chain of command. “I basically stay out of the way,” he jokes. “These guys are hard-core pros in the kitchen. I get the chairs out—and I snatch bits of turkey. I’m the turkey burglar.”
Amid the hectic holiday season, it’s the stolen moments spent among family that matter most. “Family dinner is the foundation of so many memories for our kids,” says Pollan, mother of Sam, 25, Aquinnah and Schuyler, 19, and Esme, 13. “We cherish those times. It’s such a wonderful way for all of us to reconnect, laughing, telling stories and just eating a delicious meal.” At this time of year the Fox family has twice as many reasons to celebrate. “Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Chanukah have a much more central place in our observations, but we still celebrate Christmas,” says Fox, who was raised Anglican while Pollan grew up in a Jewish household (see box). “That’s the beauty of having a blended family,” says Pollan. “My kids have grown up with every holiday.”
No matter the occasion, however, one tradition remains steadfast: The Pollan women claim the kitchen as their domain. “We end up cooking together because we like the camaraderie,” says Corky. That’s reflected in The Pollan Family Table, a cookbook filled with tried-and-true recipes that Pollan put together with her mom and sisters this year. (Her foodie brother Michael Pollan wrote the foreword.) “There are dishes we grew up eating and things that we make for our families,” says Lori. “For us, the book was like giving recipes to friends. We wanted to share our favorites.”
In order to serve their favorites at home, Corky and her husband of 62 years, Stephen, had to extend their dining room table so all 21 family members have a place setting. During the holidays “all the kids and adults go around in a circle and say what we’re thankful for,” says Pollan, who helps coordinate the menu. “The e-mails fly back and forth. Christmas is not fixed. We’ll be inspired by something we read about or something in a restaurant. It’s whatever everybody feels like.” No matter what, though, the meal promises to be memorable. After all, “it’s not what you eat together,” says Fox. “It’s that you eat together.”
Their Blended Holidays
“One of my nephews said to me when he was very little, ‘I don’t get it, are you Jewish or are you Christmas?'” recalls Fox. “And I said, ‘I’m both!'” The same holds true for their kids. “For Chanukah we do the menorah and light the candles every night,” says Pollan. “At Christmas we always have a huge tree, and we do the trimming. We have two huge boxes of decorations that we’ve had since before the kids were born.” Each year the Fox clan alternates between visiting his family in Canada and her brood in Connecticut for Christmas. But they always make up for lost time with all of their extended family. Says Fox: “We’ll come up with any excuse to get together.”
ALL HANDS ON DECK
As kids “the kitchen was where we would do homework and Mom would be cooking,” says Pollan, who grew up on Long Island. Soon they were pitching in. “We’d each have a vegetable or meal to make,” says Dana. Now they hope to impart the same love of food to the next generation. “The kids come into the kitchen saying, ‘I want the peeler,’ and the little ones get on step stools,” says Lori. “I love that they’re getting the message that this is family.”
Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad with Pecorino Cheese
Crispy Paprika-Roasted Potatoes
Patricia’s ‘Marry Me’ Roast Beef Tenderloin
Chocolate Cream Pie with Chocolate Graham Cracker Crust*
*For the recipe, go to people.com/greatideas
SHAVED BRUSSELS SPROUTS SALAD WITH PECORINO CHEESE
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1½ tbsp. fresh orange juice
½ tsp. finely grated lemon zest
½ tsp. finely grated orange zest
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 tbsp. sherry vinegar
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and pepper
1½ lbs. Brussels sprouts, trimmed and very thinly sliced
1 small or ½ large red-skinned apple (Pink Lady or Gala), julienned
½ cup shaved Pecorino Romano cheese
1. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together first 7 ingredients, ¼ tsp. salt and pepper to taste.
2. In a salad bowl, combine the Brussels sprouts and apples. Add dressing; toss gently. Top with cheese. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
Serves: 6 Prep time: 25 minutes
CRISPY PAPRIKA-ROASTED POTATOES
1 tbsp. flour
1½ tsp. paprika
Sea salt and pepper
2 lbs. small potatoes (fingerlings or red or yellow new potatoes), scrubbed but not peeled, cut in half or 1-in. pieces
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1. Preheat oven to 425°. Line a platter with paper towels. In a small bowl, mix the flour, paprika, 1 tsp. salt, and ¼ tsp. pepper. Place potatoes in a large pot, and add enough cold water to cover. Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Cook, partially covered, until just tender, about 10 minutes. Drain potatoes, and return them to the pot.
2. Meanwhile, pour the oil into a large rimmed baking sheet or baking dish. Place it in hot oven. Pour the seasoned flour over the potatoes. Put the lid on the pot and, holding the cover securely in place, shake vigorously until potatoes are completely coated with flour. Gently place potatoes in the pan in a single layer. Roast until bottoms are golden brown, 20 minutes. Flip potatoes and roast for an additional 20 minutes. Transfer to paper towel-lined platter. Remove paper towels and serve.
Serves: 4 to 6 Prep time: 25 minutes Cook time: 40 minutes
PATRICIA’S ‘MARRY ME’ ROAST BEEF TENDERLOIN
2½ lbs. beef tenderloin
2 extra-large beef bouillon cubes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1½ tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tbsp. tomato paste
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
¾ cup red wine
1 tbsp. dry sherry
1 cup low-sodium beef or chicken broth
1 tbsp. cornstarch mixed with 2 tbsp. cold water
1. Poke the meat with a knife to make small holes all over. In a small mixing bowl, combine the bouillon cubes and the next 5 ingredients. Pour in ¼ cup boiling water. Using a wooden spoon, crush the bouillon cubes, and stir until mixture becomes a thick paste. Rub paste all over the meat. Transfer meat to a roasting pan, cover loosely with foil, and marinate in the refrigerator for a minimum of 30 minutes or up to 1 hour.
2. Preheat the oven to 425°. Remove meat from refrigerator and pour ¼ to ½ in. of water into the pan. Place the pan in the oven and roast, covered, for 15 minutes. Remove foil and rotate the pan. Continue cooking, and check after 10 minutes that there is still liquid in the pan; add ¼ cup water if needed. Roast an additional 5 minutes for rare (125° on an instant-read thermometer), 15 minutes for medium-rare (130°) and 20 minutes for medium (140°). Transfer roast to a cutting board and cover with foil. Allow to rest.
3. For the gravy: Place the roasting pan with all the drippings on a stove burner over medium heat. Scrape up the browned bits, add the butter and stir. Whisk in the wine, sherry and broth. Add the cornstarch-water mixture, whisking until thickened, 2 to 3 minutes. Slice the roast and arrange on a platter. Serve gravy separately.
Serves: 6 Prep time: 30 minutes (includes making gravy) Marinating time: 30 to 60 minutes Roasting time: 30 to 45 minutes (depends on degree of doneness)