STUDIO: Warner Home Video
MSRP: $34.92
RUNNING TIME: 498 Minutes

• Bonus Ideas

• Tips and Techniques
• Printable Shopping Lists, Recipes and Project Instructions
• Subtitles

The Pitch

“Got a billion-dollar multimedia empire with your name on it and an army of assistants firmly underfoot? Then celebrate the holidays the Martha Stewart way!”

The Humans

Living mogul Martha Stewart (aka former prisoner #55170-054), a few precocious kids, several put-upon assistants.

"To my gentlemen viewers: if this is your banana warmer, please call me at…"

The Nutshell

Martha Stewart has a lot to say about the holidays. For people who enjoy going a bit nuts with the cooking and decorating from late-November through New Year’s, Martha may be the woman of your dreams. Martha’s Holidays 2005 is a 3-DVD collection of the best of Martha’s recipes and craft projects from her popular holiday TV shows. You may have your family traditions down to a science or you may be afraid to even start any, either way this set will give you plenty of ideas to spruce up your festive get-togethers. Discs one and two cover Thanksgiving and Christmas in minute detail with over 3 hours of content each. The bonus third disc uses about half that time to discuss New Year’s.

Martha’s Classic Thanksgiving offers myriad ways to polish up Turkey Day, or what some might call “the first leg of the Fatness Triathlon.” Want to replace Grandma’s petrified turkey with one that goes down unlubricated by sauces or drinks? Martha has five unique ways to cook the bird to juicy perfection, including the traditional baked turkey with stuffing and hearty gravy, the mildly intimidating deep-fried version, rotisserie turkey over the BBQ grill, a peculiar, almost unappetizing black-lacquered turkey (paint not required) and, for the advanced knife-wielder, a fully boned, rolled and sausage-stuffed iteration. Turkey gets all the attention at the head of the dinner table, but it’s the side dishes that make the meal. Stewart highlights a few interesting stuffing recipes (cornbread and wheat bread factions are given equal attention) as well as veggie accompaniments from Brussels sprouts to succotash. Try just thinking about garlic horseradish mashed potatoes without your mouth watering. No pants-bursting feast would be complete without a plethora of dessert choices. Here you’ll find sweet potato and pecan pies, pumpkin soufflé, apple tarts and cranberry pistachio biscotti for those who like to test their dental integrity.

Recipes are only half the fun. Stewart’s true talents lie in her decorating skills. Whether you need help with setting up some inviting table scenery or covering a bare mantle or shelf with fall accents, every aspect of the pre-dinner setup gets a mention. Don’t bag those beautiful maple leaves. Save the best ones for a leaf-print tablecloth or a nice harvest basket arrangement. Even the kids can have fun with craft projects making cornhusk dolls and paper strip placemats. There’s plenty of other content here to add value to your pre-Shopping Day spread.

I can’t believe it. She’s really cooking with wee-wee.

A month later, Christmas rolls around to increase your debt and your waistline. Martha’s Homemade Holidays leaves no stocking unstitched and no gift unwrapped. Join her in the kitchen for some holiday baking of the sweet kind. Savory show-stoppers are also on the menu, including recipes for a standing rib roast with Yorkshire pudding, a seafood salad and some baccala (a dried salt cod) ravioli from guest chef Mario Batali, and succulent duck breast with pomegranate walnut sauce. The Jewish folks get a few mentions as Martha makes potato pancakes and sweet zalabia (fritters in syrup) for Hanukkah as well as traditional gelt bags (a little velvet sack with chocolate coins inside).

Stewart throws in a bevy of crafty demonstrations for the novice decorator. From handmade ornaments, gifts and wreaths to spiced pinecones and votives made of ice, you will wonder where to find the time to do all of this in the weeks leading up to Jesus’ birthday party. You’ll also get tips for improving your gift-wrapping options, and so much more.

By the time New Year’s Eve hits, you (by “you” I mean “I”) can’t stand the thought of long lines, traffic or the smell of family members. Time to eat snacks and drink alcohol! If you want a killer antipasto tray or seafood extravaganza, Martha’s New Year Celebration has got the hook up for your lazy, pie-filled asses. Enjoy guzzling cocktails like it’s 1999? Slap together a White Cosmopolitan, Seafood Bloody Mary or Snakebite (half ale, half hard cider). If you have several hundred dollars to blow, play along with Martha as she learns about Dom Perignon from an expert guest. You’ll be tempted to try every one of the craft projects, including party favors and flower arrangements, just to anchor the fiesta at your house so you can drink and pass out in a familiar place (drink responsibly, don’t let your friends…etc.).

The Package

If you’ve seen Martha on TV, you’ll recognize that bleary, dreamy look of her show. Since it’s part of the program’s visual style, I can’t fault the DVD transfer for looking a little blurry. The sound design is very soothing, for the most part. I could swear I heard a brief moment of surround that gave me a jolt when Stewart turned on a mixer, but I was lying on the couch trying to stay awake, so it may have been a hallucination. As much as I dislike Martha Stewart and her show, I can appreciate the wealth of extra features included with this collection. The first two discs contain lots of extra cooking and crafts demonstrations by Martha. A disembodied male voice explains some basic tips and techniques that can be useful around the house. Martha also takes field trips to a cranberry processing plant, a confections company that specializes in ribbon candy and the workshop of a craftsman who makes die-cast sleigh bells. You’ll also find plenty of DVD-ROM-accessible printouts for the recipes, projects and instructions shown in the video segments from all three discs. It’s a full-bodied set, all things considered. The set comes in a nice cardboard sleeve that houses the individual snap cases for each disc.

For chefs with a limited budget, lemon
hand-towel soup really hits the spot.

The Lowdown

As I said above, I don’t like Martha Stewart. Maybe it’s because I know a thing or two about cooking and I find her lessons to be a bit overdone. Her personality and mannerisms are a big part of it too. Before sullying her image by lying to federal investigators about her involvement in a suspicious stock trade, Stewart spent many years building a reputation as the motherly “good things” guru for everything home-related. I have trouble separating Martha the human from Martha the product. She comes off as such a joyless person. Most of the guest chefs and assistants seem to tiptoe around their segments, and Martha has a bad habit of talking over them a lot and impatiently pushing the cart ahead of the horses. She uses the word “perfect” way too often, as if to say, “My version is perfect. Good luck trying to match it, peasants.” She also seems very uncomfortable with children. I was going to compare her wealthy aloofness and quirks to Michael Jackson, but the children thing just killed that thought stream (and she’s really not that demented).

I guess after slogging through 8+ hours with Martha, I’m ready for the holidays to be over. You may like her a lot. If so, this collection is well worth the money for all the information, both practical and gratuitous, that it contains. But many of you are like me and can’t get past the false front she puts up. If I was invited to one of Martha’s parties, I’d go for the food, but I’d give back as many fake smiles as I received. And I’d want to break something on purpose.

7.2 out of 10

After three bottles of champagne, Robert Zemeckis thought he had a chance.