Since my wife, Nancy Oakes, and I don't have kids, we have the freedom to celebrate the holidays with whomever we like, and for the past 10 years we've been joining a dozen friends and fellow chefs who are empty nesters. Usually the meal begins in the kitchen with a big iced tin of osetra caviar, a foie gras terrine, a mound of boiled shrimp and a sink full of raw oysters. The chef types take turns shucking the oysters and the hosts keep the Champagne flowing. Nancy and I have the job of cooking the main course.
After an hour or so of nibbling and chat, all of us are ready to wander into the dining room for dinner, which invariably centers on a gargantuan hunk of roasted meat. But the meal is preceded my obligatory argument with Nancy (another chef type) about whether the meat is done. I rely on a digital meat thermometer; Nancy uses her nose and her eyes and never trusts the thermometer.
One year we had a braised stuffed veal breast; another year it was our version of porchetta, fresh pork belly stuffed with Italian sausage and pork loin. We've also feasted on whole beef loin and on wild turkey, but our all-time favorites have been a standing rib roast of beef, a whole rack of veal, a roast leg of pork and a braised brisket of beef. This last is an homage to the brisket my grandmother used to make for "Hanukkamas." My family celebrated this cross between Christmas and Hanukkah with the traditional turkeywhich I would skipand beef brisket and latkes (potato pancakes), which were the focus of my attention and my sizable appetite.