I have to admit, I’ve reached that “certain” age when most of my friends have turned their kitchens into planters. As one of them puts it, “If the Almighty had intended me to cook, he wouldn’t have given us Costco!”
So it’s no wonder that when my husband and I and five other local couples formed a Chavurah dinner group, we decided “dinner” means out, and the kitchen is open for dessert only.
We meet every four to six weeks (synchronizing our calendars has become a bigger chore than cooking), and each couple takes a turn choosing a restaurant near their home. Then we go back to their place for what my family lovingly refers to as “coffee and.”
The table is set as if for a formal dinner. With only one course to worry about, we take turns wowing each other with unusual sweets.
One time when it was my turn (and I must have been in a particularly masochistic frame of mind) I created a champagne poached pear, stuffed with marscapone cheese, apricots and pecans, baked in puff pastry with two sauces: crème anglais and port wine reduction. I’ll not be doing that again anytime soon. (If you have a couple of days with nothing to do and want to try it, let me know, and I’ll be happy to send you the recipe.)
Once a year, however, around the Chanukah celebrations, we do an elegant dinner at home. We dress up, and each couple brings a course. Last weekend’s holiday party was at our house – I told you we have calendar problems! – and as the hostess, my assignment was the main course, and everyone brings something else.
Diane Sachs brought the appetizers – enough for an army! – mock chopped liver, guacamole, tzatziki, veggies…but the showstopper was her pastry-covered Brie.
Lois Goren took the salad. When Lois needs a recipe, she just calls her “cuz,” Barry Saven, caterer to the stars.
Saven gets some pretty lavish requests from his high profile, high-living clientele. “One particular client enjoys fresh truffles,” he told me, “and requested that we acquire white ones, which are really hard to find, to be shaved on top of mashed potatoes. The only place I could find them was Paris. I had them flown in, a FedEx-type scenario, and then prepared them for him on the mashed potatoes. That was the most expensive mashed potatoes anybody has ever eaten!
I served the main course, Horseradish Crusted Salmon, a longtime crowd pleaser. Everything can be measured and prepared in advance, but keep the bread crumbs, nuts, and oil separate. Then mix them with the remaining ingredients just before you are ready to bake the salmon, so the topping doesn’t get soggy.
For our side dishes, Judi Weisman, better known in these parts as “Nana” to the inimitable Sophie (don’t you love it that these names are coming back?) brought Chili Cheese Rice, a recipe she got from her daughter, and Barbara Klingsberg brought her specialty: a gorgeous platter of roasted vegetables, including asparagus, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, celeriac, beets, butternut squash, cipollini onions, carrots and baby squash.
Linda Gomberg always takes the dessert course, and no wonder! This time she brought Double Chocolate Pound Cake, Whiskey Cake, Macaroon Cake, and Ice Cream Cake with homemade Chocolate Fudge Sauce, and of course there’s always frozen yogurt for the – ha! – dieters. Several of her cakes were baked in one of those new cupcake cake pans. Have you seen them? You bake a cake in the shape of a giant cupcake. I won one in the gift exchange and can’t wait to try it with my grandchildren.
All in all, a sweet ending to a sweet holiday celebration! (A little late, but sweet nonetheless.)
Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of “Cooking Jewish: 532 Great Recipes from the Rabinowitz Family” and can be found on the web at www.cookingjewish.com.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.