Archive for the 'Dinner Parties' Category

Pareve Peach Pie

This entry is also posted on Dr. Sukol’s blog, Your Health is on Your Plate.

About a year ago, a friend of mine got interested in the raw food movement.  Raw foodists prefer their food, as advertised, raw.  Uncooked.  She said it changed her life.  OK, lots of people say stuff like that.  But I have to admit that I see the difference – she is more relaxed, and brimming with beauty and energy.  Four kids?  No problem!

Yid.Dish: Chilled Peanut-Sesame Noodles

This is a wonderful Parve side dish that I’ve been making for the past five years. Ask anyone in my family and they’ll tell you it’s a favorite at home. (My dad especially loves it). This recipe is simple and delicious and can be made up to a day in advance.

Accommodations

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Holiday accommodations span far wider than hotels and motels.

Whether a host, guest, family member, friend, neighbor, colleague, or otherwise, the holidays are a time when we are all brought together under many circumstances, and required to deal with each other in ways unlike most other days. It brings out the best and worst in everyone.  For me, it often feels like these decisions define me. I have always struggled in balancing truth with tact, and tend to be either far too blunt and direct or completely spineless. And of course I also struggle with wanting so very much to accommodate without compromising my principles or even identity.

An example from my own experience. One Passover, a couple showed up, stoned, and presented me with a cake. Not exactly the Elijah I was expecting. And this was a real, Italian bakery, flour and butter laden, gorgeous cake. I had no idea what to do. Part of me was humiliated, because they know I am observant. Part of me was terrified not to be a gracious host, or to spoil the otherwise wonderful occasion. Part of me (a really big part of me) wanted to slap them silly. So what did I do? I put it out on a non-Passover plate and kicked myself for the rest of the holiday. Not my greatest moment.

The Thanksgiving Hunter and Gatherer

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I love cooking big dinners especially when they come with interesting dishes or new culinary challenges.  Thanksgiving has been a favorite of mine for a long time, since I have in part not been celebrating the Jewish food holidays for all that long.   Even when I was college I was whipping up elaborate meals despite limitations to space (one year it was a dormitory kitchen in the basement of the building) or even supplies (I forgot to buy aluminum foil so I improvised by covering my chicken, not a turkey, in applesauce, which by the way kept the meat moist and gave it a slightly sweet flavor).

Living in New York City poses its own set of advantages and challenges.  I mean in New York, you can get anything and usually get it delivered (at least in Manhattan).  I’ve found that mostly to be true – that was until I tried to serve venison for Thanksgiving.

“The Ear Tests Words as The Palate Tastes Food”

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When Job reflected upon the wisdom of God’s creation “Truly the ear tests words as the palate tastes food” (12:11), could he have been alluding to the remarkable evolutionary development of the bones in our middle ear?  According to Natalie Angier in her article in the Science Times section of the New York Times today,

“Imagine what a dinner conversation would be like if you had decent table manners, but the ears of a lizard.  Not only would you have to stop eating whenever you wanted to speak, but, because parts of your ears are now attached to your jaw, you’d have to stop eating whenever you wanted to hear anybody else….Sometimes its the little things in life that make all the difference – in this case, the three littlest bones in the human body.  Tucked in our auditory canal, just on the inner side of the eardrum, are the musically named malleus, incus, and stapes, each minibone, each ossicle, about the size of a small freshwater pearl  and jointly the basis of one of evolution’s greatest inventions, the mammalian middle ear.  The middle ear gives us our sound bite, our capacity to masticate without being forced to turn a momentary deaf ear to the world, as most vertebrates are.   Who can say whether we humans would have become so voraciously verbal if not for the practice our ancestors had of jawboning around the wildebeest spit.”

Who Invited Julia Child to Rosh Hashanah?

I did!

I love to host the holidays. Nothing gives me more pleasure than planning, marketing, preparing, and entertaining for these special times, and I have established a tradition of going a little over the top for the occasion.

I also loved the books Julie and Julia as well as My Life in France. Both inspired me to swipe my mom’s old copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking and happily start practicing. That was 2 or 3 years ago, and my appetite was rewet when I heard the film was coming out this summer. It inspired me to begin planning Le Marais, or an all Julia Child tribute to Rosh Hashanah.

If I Knew You Were Coming, I’d Have Baked a Cake . . . on the Hood of My Car

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If my summer were a cookbook, it would be called What to Expect When You’re Expecting— Expecting Company, That Is, and It’s a Heat Wave.

Yes, welcome to life in the global warming oven.  We are on at least heat wave #3 of the summer here in usually temperate Portland, and I’ve had a potluck to attend or guests to host for all of them.  And while the hot weather makes me want to eat ice cream three meals a day, I know I really shouldn’t.

Especially not when “eating” means “bringing to a potluck where it will sit out in the sun.”

So what has been on the menu?  Lots, and I figured I’d share it in case you can’t stand the heat but still need to be in the kitchen.

A Kibbutz Style Wedding

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It’s one of those things I thought I had sworn never to do again: prepare food for an event. But when a young couple on the kibbutz decided to get married and wanted a “kibbutz wedding,” I somehow found myself in charge of the hors d’oeuvres, (along with my sister, who “volunteered” me.)  

In the old days, a wedding meant that half the kibbutz spent the day in preparation. Our young couple was wedding in a different era: They had to pay for everything themselves; most members work in jobs outside the kibbutz (where taking a day off to work on a wedding is, for some reason, not a given); and there’s no central kitchen with all the necessary equipment, permanent staff and person in charge of procurement.

Yid. Dish: Corn and Zucchini Risotto

Corn Zucchini Risotto

I know we are in the season of fasts for many Jews but here is a simple (yet a bit time consuming) recipe that tastes great!  We have been getting quite a bit of zucchini in our CSA box.  I even made a healthier version of this (the one without the pineapple) zucchini bread using this recipe.  If you’d like the modified version please post in the comments section and I will get back to you.

Now, I do like zucchini but when it is cooked and mushy it grosses me out a little bit (I have some food texture issues which involve a real dislike of baked/mushy fruits and vegetables).  So, in this reciped I added the veggies at almost the very end of cooking.  If you’d like them cooked a bit more you can add them earlier.

As I mentioned in a previous post, risotto has been a long-time family meal and holds a special place in my heart.  One of the reasons I love risotto is that it is so versatile.  I know many people are intimidated by risotto but this is totally unfounded.  The trick to good risotto is making sure there is always enough liquid in the pan.  You never want the risotto to be so dry that it sticks to the bottom of the pan.  So really the trick might just be attentiveness.

Like my previous risotto post, this recipe isn’t Kosher the way I made it.  However, it is very easy to make it Kosher.  You can use vegetable broth or some sort of chicken-flavored boullion for the depth of flavor that chicken broth gives you.  I would not eliminate the dairy in this recipe.  You just can’t have good risotto without parmesan cheese.  I hope you enjoy this summer risotto!

Shabbat Picnics

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In the winter, there’s nothing I like more than huddling around a table in a warm kitchen with good friends, sharing a Shabbat meal. Matzah ball soup, cholent, kugels, roasted vegetables, and a nice hefty cake–they’re all perfect dishes for December, or year-round if you happen to live in Siberia.

But I live in New York City, and we’re quickly approaching the time of year when I try to divide my time evenly between sitting outside drinking in the sunshine, and lying motionless on my bed, basking in the glory of my ceiling fan and trying not to melt. This means I don’t want to spend tons of time in the kitchen, and I definitely, definitely don’t want to make cholent. In fact, what I really want is to eat my Shabbat meals outside on a picnic bench or a plaid blanket. But what kind of dishes lend themselves to my July requirements? Here’s a roundup of possibilities you can whip up on a Friday afternoon, and relish in the park the next day.

Yid. Dish: Onion and Gruyere Tart

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First, let me apologize for the poor quality of the picture!  It doesn’t do justice to the tart or the camera’s abilities… better luck next time!  Now onto to the food itself…

I’ve always been a huge fan of onions – red, white, yellow, green – I don’t discriminate.  I like them raw and cooked, on bagels with cream cheese, on pizza, in salad, etc.   I find that most things I cook begin with my gorgeous Sur Le Table sautee pan (Hannukah present from my Dad), some olive oil, chopped garlic, and of course, some onion.   They just seem to add necessary flavor to everything.  Now I know there are people who hate onions and while I can respect that, I just can’t understand it.  However, as my friends and family will tell you, I have some weird issues with food textures that many cannot understand.  Fortunately my little sister has many of the same issues so I have an ally.  Let me also add, if you do not like onions, this recipe isn’t for you… but it’s really really good.

Torah vs. “Text” or, Don’t Study With Your Mouth Full

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“Rabbi Shimon taught: ‘…Three who dine at a table and exchange words of Torah are considered as having eaten at God’s table…’”  (Pirke Avot 3:4)  I suppose a discussion of religion is considered verboten almost everywhere by certain people, but not in Jewish culture.  Then again, we like to talk politics in public, too!  But in the days of the Mishna, of course the conversation was only with the other people at the table.  After all, there was no e-mail, no phones…  and no text messages!  I remember, when cell phones were first becoming popular, my friend railing against people who would answer calls during dinner.  I agreed with her, but felt there should be some wiggle-room:  what if your friend is calling to say she’ll be late?  What if he needs directions to the restaurant?  Also, why should it bother me at the next table?  I understand if it is the person you’re dining with, but the “noise” argument makes no sense, since you wouldn’t be bothered by the people at the next table having a normal conversation.  Nowadays, we’re all used to this and most of us are pretty polite about it (music on the subway is a different story entirely, but I’ll restrain myself for now.)  Text messages, though around for years, have recently become more of a problem according to the NYT Dining section.

He Gave Me a Drawer – I Took The Kitchen

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I met someone special at Purim this past year.  It wasn’t love at first sight, not at all (after all, I was wearing a mask when we met). And it took some persistent and clever wooing on his part, but I am now very smitten.

It’s been a few months now, but my heart still races whenever I see him.  I get this big goofy grin on my face when I am with him.  He makes me want to be a better person.  In the past I’ve described myself as a conscientious omnivore, but he really challenges me (in good ways) to think about my food choices.   Needless to say things were going quite well.   We had gotten to the point in our relationship where he offered me some space in his apartment to keep some of my personal items, like a toothbrush and some clothes, stuff like that.

Shabbat Dinner Exploits: The Good, The Bad, and the Commonwealth

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Months ago I had an idea for a themed Shabbat dinner: I would invite all of my friends from Commonwealth countries, and have a Queen’s Shabbat. I could serve Commonwealth inspired foods, and it would be a fun night to hang out with friends from all over the world. Since I host Shabbat meals all the time, the idea didn’t seem particularly daunting, but I never seemed to get around to setting a date and sending out an invitation.

Right before Pesach I met with Rabbi Yoni Sherizen, who runs the Jewish chaplaincy programs in the UK. Jewish chaplains (usually a married couple) are sent to live in a college town or on a university campus in order to help provide Jewish services to students at the local university. It’s a lot like Chabad, but without the rebbe, and it’s especially important in the UK, where there have been crazy amounts of anti-Semitism on college campuses.

Yoni and his wife Dalia were incredibly helpful to me when I was at Oxford in 2004, and I was concerned about how dire Yoni told me the situation was in so many British universities. Plus, the falling economy has meant a lot of funders have had to cut back, and some universities are in danger of losing their Jewish chaplains.