I have a confession to make. I am a lazy chef.
My mother in law is a former instructor at the French Culinary Institute in New York City. She also happened to graduate from that very institution as the valedictorian of her class. She currently freelances for Fine Cooking magazine and has served as executive chef for several of Manhattan's trendiest restaurants. She will travel for hours in search of that perfect Tahitian vanilla bean to insert in a sugar bowl "just because." She will of course always put that vanilla bean to use upon request when making individual pots de cremes or creme brulee just for me since "it takes just a minute."
That being said, I feel a little bit of pressure to perform at least decently in the kitchen despite the fact that I do not possess anything remotely resembling the aforementioned culinary qualifications. I do appreciate good food though, as well as the time to do other things before and after its preparation.
When my husband and I came from Israel to work for Aish HaTorah in New York we brought some trepidation (at least on my end) about how to feed and entertain large crowds of people for Shabbat. I used to spend the entire week preparing these meals (this is no exaggeration). It is a mitzvah to remember the Sabbath day throughout the week, but this can be done without cooking for seven days straight.
Ever since he watched an animal rights activist's film in college my husband has been a vegetarian. As a result, I am always searching for interesting yet simple vegetarian recipes. Although our home is not strictly vegetarian, I have found that there are a lot of gourmet ideas to be gleaned from vegetarian cookbooks.
One morning I headed for the local Barnes and Noble to check out their selection. I came across one called, The Vegetarian 5-Ingredient Gourmet by Nava Atlas. Inside were 250 vegetarian recipes, each comprised of no more than five ingredients. Perpetually daunted by gourmet kosher cookbooks with fabulous, albeit lengthy ingredient lists, I became inspired by this idea. I decided to apply the concept of using five ingredients or less per recipe for a five course Shabbat menu. I found that I was easily able to create a repertoire of very simple and delicious recipes. And I still have time to do other things during my week.
Except where noted, these recipes are my own and therefore reflect the casual attitude I have with respect to cooking. I generally do not use measuring spoons or cups and usually go with my feelings as I am preparing a dish. If it seems dry, I add more liquid. I go lightly on the seasoning, adjusting if required. Cooking times are approximate and I test textures with a fork as I go along. I'm not a baker, so I manage to get away with this style of casual cooking. It's fun and I rarely strike out. In fact I have only had three culinary disasters to date, two of which were results of recipes followed to the letter! Jalapeno Barley Casserole anyone? I thought not.
So read on and I hope you enjoy my recipes!
Please note: While limiting the ingredients for each recipe to five or less, the only things I have decided not to "count" are water and spices.
"Everyone Will Think Your Bubby Made It" Chicken Soup
1. Two packages of noodle soup mix (I use Noodleman's). If you do not wish to use prepared soup mix you can just cook the chicken, vegetables and seasoning for a long time and add cooked noodles separately.
2. One bag of peeled baby carrots
3. One package of celery hearts (washed and sliced)
4. Washed chicken pieces of choice (I use boneless, skinless breasts because I am finicky about bones and the like but any kind or chicken will work).
5. Two peeled and sliced onions
6. Seasonings to taste (I use frozen cubes of garlic and dill made by Sabra. They are available in many kosher stores and are fabulous. Otherwise crushed garlic and fresh dill is great. If you can't find any of the above just use the dried stuff generously with lots of salt and pepper).
1. Cook soup mix (with noodles) as per package.
2. Add everything else with water to cover and bring to boil.
3. Add seasonings and simmer for as long as you wish, adding water as necessary (longer tastes better).
Chilled Salmon Filet
I am not a fan of gefilte fish. If you are, then you don't need my advice. Below are options for salmon filet. They are elegant and fast and can also be served hot as an entree for the vegetarian at your table.
1. One fresh boneless, skinless salmon filet for every three appetizer portions (you will cut each into thirds just prior to serving). If you are using fish for a main course, allow one whole filet per serving.
2. Olive oil
3. Bottled lemon juice
4. Seasonings: salt, pepper, garlic powder, Lawry's Seasoning Salt (my formerly secret culinary weapon).
1. Lay filets in pan (I use disposable pans so there's no clean up). For those who prefer not to use aluminum, Pyrex works well.
2. Pour olive oil and lemon juice over the fish. Be very generous with the lemon juice. The filets should literally be "swimming" in it. This is what keeps it moist and flavorful.
3. Season liberally (this is crucial) and bake (covered) until it flakes with a fork and/or smells done.
If you have used lots of lemon juice you really can't overcook it. If you are serving it hot as an entree Friday night the liquid will keep it from drying out on a hot plate, too. If you are serving it chilled, the liquid forms a nice marinade.
Keep in mind that you can always just pour any prepared sauce over the fish and bake it as well. Teriyaki or duck sauce is fine and you can dress these up by adding a little crushed pineapple, orange juice and sesame seeds. Always good to use a little olive oil first because it keeps the fish moist.
Four Easy Options
I serve salad between the fish and main course. It gives you time to bring out the other dishes and makes it seem more like an elegant five course meal. I am starting with lettuce as the basis for the salad options her so there may be a total of five additional ingredients.
Lettuce with Pears, Cranberries and Candied Nuts
To cleaned lettuce (a mix of greens is better) add:
1. Sliced ripe pears
2. Dried cranberries
3. Candied almonds or pecans (Klein's makes these)
4. Toss with bottled French dressing
Lettuce with Mandarin Oranges and Red Onion
To cleaned lettuce add:
1. One large can mandarin orange segments in juice
2. One thinly sliced red onion (Maui, if available)
3. One or two packages of Chinese noodles (You can buy these, but it's fun to save the ones that come with Chinese food delivery.)
4. Toss with good quality bottled French dressing
Crunchy Colorful Salad
To cleaned lettuce add:
1. A few handfuls of washed grape tomatoes (no slicing required)
2. One large perfectly ripe avocado (sliced)
3. One large yellow (or orange) bell pepper (sliced)
4. A couple of handfuls of Terra Chips or Terra Stix (the vegetable snack chips)
5. Toss with good quality bottled French or Italian dressing of choice
Easy Italian Salad
To cleaned lettuce add:
1. One can sliced hearts of palm
2. One can pitted black olives
3. One jar marinated artichoke hearts
4. A couple of handfuls of pine nuts
5. Toss with good quality bottled Italian dressing
Baked Chicken (With Four Simple Sauce Selections)
1. One boneless, skinless chicken filet per person (If you prefer other pieces, use them. You can slice each breast in half before serving if they are very large.)
1. Lay chicken pieces in pan and preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
2. Add olive oil (if needed), dry seasoning and then liquid sauce of your choice from options listed below.
3. Bake until tender (you may broil at the end if you want the chicken browned).
Lemon Herb Chicken
1. Olive oil
2. Bottled lemon juice
3. Dried rosemary, thyme and garlic (plus salt and pepper)
Honey Mustard Chicken with Apples
1. Prepared store bought honey mustard
2. Green apples (one for every two chicken pieces; peeled and sliced)
3. Garlic powder
Cranberry Onion Chicken (from Classic Kosher Cooking by Sara Finkel)
1. One package onion soup mix (combined with)
2. One can whole berry cranberry sauce
Chicken with Duck Sauce and Peaches
1. Prepared duck sauce
2. One can sliced peaches in juice
3. Garlic powder
If you want to get fancy you can add a can of drained crushed pineapple or apricots as well.
Vegetable Side Dishes
Four Easy Options
Zucchini in Marinara Sauce
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Slice zucchini in chunks and place in pan, season with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Pour jarred marinara sauce on top and bake uncovered for 30 minutes. Check frequently to avoid overcooking!
Baked Tomato Halves
Preheat oven to 357degrees F. Slice tomatoes lengthwise and lay halves in pan. Drizzle with olive oil and season liberally with packaged bread crumbs garlic powder, salt and pepper. Bake just until fork tender and holding their shape. (Check after 20 minutes.)
Maple Baked Apples (Okay, it's fruit, but I had to put it somewhere.)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Wash and arrange whole small red apples in a pan (no need to core). Drizzle liberally with pure maple syrup (not artificially flavored pancake syrup), orange juice and raisins. Sprinkle with cinnamon to taste. Bake covered until fork tender. Check after 40 minutes until desired consistency is reached.
Stacey's Potatoes (courtesy of Stacey Katz)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Wash and slice white potatoes and yams (allow half of each type per serving). Add peeled and sliced onions to taste. Drizzle and toss with olive oil and season liberally with salt, pepper, garlic powder, rosemary and thyme. Bake covered or uncovered until tender, checking after 45 minutes or so. (It should be noted that Stacey prefers them to be crispy so she does not cover the pan while baking.)
Alternative Starch Side Dishes
Just give yourself a break and use those Near East boxed rice pilaf and couscous mixes! The couscous mix takes only five minutes! You can mix in different sweet or savory options at the end of cooking like; orange juice dried cranberries and slivered almonds or canned sliced black olives with tomato juice and pine nuts. Be creative!
Three "No Bake, No Mistake" Dessert Options
Layered Sorbet Pie
1. One pint mango Sharon's Sorbet
2. One pint coconut Sharon's Sorbet
3. One prepared graham cracker pie crust
4. One container frozen sweetened strawberries (completely defrosted)
1. Scoop softened mango sorbet into piecrust and smooth until relatively flat.
2. Scoop softened coconut sorbet onto the mango layer and smooth in a swirling motion.
3. Freeze until firm.
4. To serve, thaw slightly and cut into individual slices. Spoon strawberries (once defrosted they make their own sauce) over each slice on individual dessert plates and serve immediately.
You can make this with any combination of sorbet flavors. Use three layers (i.e. raspberry, lemon and mango) for an especially elegant presentation.
Frozen Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie
1. One pint Tofutti Chocolate Cookie Crunch non-dairy ice cream
2. One pint chocolate peanut butter Soy Delicious non-dairy ice cream
3. One prepared chocolate piecrust
4. Non-dairy chocolate syrup
5. Chopped nuts, non-dairy chocolate chips or lightly crushed graham cracker pieces
1. Scoop softened Tofutti into piecrust and smooth until relatively flat.
2. Scoop softened Soy Delicious onto the Tofutti layer and smooth in a swirling motion.
3. Top with nuts, chips or graham cracker pieces and drizzle artistically with chocolate syrup.
4. Freeze until firm.
5. To serve, thaw slightly; slice into individual serving pieces and drizzle with additional syrup, if desired.
Tofutti Cutie Sundaes
1. One Tofutti Cutie non-dairy ice cream sandwich per serving
2. Non-dairy chocolate syrup
3. Rainbow sprinkles
1. Place one Tofutti Cutie on an individual dessert plate and slice in half.
2. Separate halves slightly, leaving them joined at the top and open at the bottom.
3. Drizzle chocolate syrup on top in a zigzag design, top with rainbow sprinkles, and serve immediately.