"I think it's nice that there are all different kinds of lunches and breakfasts and dinners and snacks. I think eating is nice." – Albert from Bread and Jam for Frances, by Russell C. Hoban
It’s the bane of everyone’s life – menu planning. What to serve, what’s the order of operations in the kitchen? How to best plan the shopping, the prepping, the cooking, the storing and yes, the cleanup. How to think through the leftovers – making sure you have leftovers, including what can be frozen, reworked and eaten for a few days after the big meal.
Each week, in order to cook for Shabbat, I plan a menu and create a shopping list while agonizing about the growth of the guest list and if we have enough food planned – we always do. While we’re all quite capable in the kitchen, I tend to be the best at being the executive chef, ordering my minions about as needed. My husband, Ira, has become the main shopper of the house – how nice is that? My eldest, Natan, is most often in charge of sweets and desserts and the middle son, Gabe, is the saucier. But everyone chops and preps and groans aside, everyone washes dishes and we all laugh when Gabe is heard to say, “but I did clean up last week!”
As my kids have matured past the age of legal drinking, and even a bit before, we’ve added in a necessary treat to ease the pain of hectic Friday afternoons in the kitchen – a gin and tonic, or a cold beer. It totally helps and I highly recommend it.
Today, as I dragged myself out of bed on Thursday morning, I contemplated the fact that Ira was out of town, that I had to plan, cook AND shop. Blargh. What to do and how to keep it easy? Sure, I could just buy ingredients, but what about with a bit of planning. We were pleased to have unexpectedly snagged a lunch invitation. We’d make a dessert and maybe a salad to bring.
Getting ready for the shop: As I drove to Jerusalem’s downtown open market, the shuk, I discussed some ideas with my shopping partner, Natan. We decided against fish – too boring – in favor of a crustless vegetable pie. We knew we’d have to wait until we got there in order to see what looked good but assumed it would have mushrooms, greens and onions and maybe something else. Actually, we may op for a crust – I’m in the mood. We ended up buying two kinds of mushrooms to keep the pie rich and flavorful and some sharp reggiano cheese to grate on top.
Menu on the run: We voted for buying some prepared salads from Uri and Son’s, as well as a variety of vegetables stuffed with rice from Tzidkiyahu (they’re pricey but good), which when heated make a great first course with the aforementioned salads. We voted for some good cheese at the wonderful Basher cheese market – we bought a gorgonzola picante which can be spread onto a crusty piece of bread or eaten alongside a salad or dabbed onto the top of the vegetable pie for more complex flavor. Rounding out the meal? Roasted eggplants (I’ll be posting this recipe in the next month) served with a garlicky home-made tahini and baked cauliflower, served with seeds and feta in a mustard vinaigrette. Roasted potatoes had already been voted on as an extra. Okay fine, twist my arm.
Dessert: Natan plans a milk chocolate ice cream with a dark chocolate straciatella threaded through for crunch. He’ll share that with you soon. Gabe is still contemplating what to bake – we’ll let you know but I’m thinking Ginger-almond-orange cake.
Libations: A good buy on 4/NIS100 for everyone’s favorite, Young Select Muscato (sort of like wine) and another 4/NIS100 for 4 big bottles of Leffe – blond and brown Belgian beer.
Saturday notes: If we didn’t have a lunch invite, the eggplant and cauliflower would both extend to two meals (I bought 6 smallish eggplants, figuring 1/2 per person) and 2 heads of cauliflower for a nice amount of salad. Roasted potatoes are also easily handled in bulk in order to have enough for two meals and either fish or tofu and a fresh, green salad with persimmon and roasted nuts would round out the meal just fine as needed.
On Friday: We’ll buy fresh bread and anything else that we’ve forgotten. At the shuk, we bought fruit for general eating. Grapes and figs are still readily available and quite tasty as well and melons have been fabulous of late. I thought I’d be buying mangoes but was told “there’s a break in the mangoes” but to “expect them again in a few weeks.”
As for leftovers, I know that the extra head of cauliflower and extra eggplants we bought will be tasty for a few days after they’re prepared and that the batch of tahini we’ll make will be fine for drizzling on our chopped lunch or supper salads. I’m concerned that we have no beans on the menu as leftover beans always can do many things from being blended into dips and spreads to being tossed into soups with a fresh saute of vegetables. As it turns out, we ended up buying large limas, one of my winter favorites, which we’ll soak and cook after Shabbat with a side sofrito or stir-fry of pumpkin, zucchini and sweet, red peppers – a warming stew or soup. For the dip beans, I’ll puree them with some of their cooking liquid, working in either tahini as if it’s a humus, or mustard and fresh herbs.
What are your menu plans for this week, or next?