| Man With a Pan |

Cuisine Contest

The Man

Yosef Tabak,

age 28

1 child

Office Furniture

Jackson, NJ

The Plan

Friday Night: Moroccan Tilapia, Roasted Garlic, Tomato Dip, Olive Tapenade, Sautéed Jalapeños, Chicken Soup, Grilled Chicken Legs, Skirt Steak, Popcorn Cauliflower, Blueberry Peach Crumble

The Plan

Shabbos Lunch: Moroccan Tilapia and Dips, Eggs, Sautéed Liver, Grilled Chicken, Salad, Cholent, Chocolate, Mousse Cups with, Whipped Cream

Hungarian vs. American: Which will reign supreme?

I’ve always enjoyed cooking, whether it’s grilling, making beef jerky in a dehydrator, or cooking on the stove. Man with a Pan intrigues me, and with my wife’s encouragement, I decide to take on the challenge. My grandparents are Hungarian, with my grandmother being the quintessential Hungarian cook and

my mother following in her footsteps.

My wife, on the other hand, is the first person I’ve ever met with four American grandparents, so this is a great opportunity to see whose cuisine reigns supreme. Watching my grandmother and mother cook, and of course eating their food, gave me a great education in the kitchen. I decide to make everything myself besides challah, which my wife already baked, and mine wouldn’t be anywhere near as good as hers anyway.

My wonderful wife does agree, however, to clean up the kitchen after I make the mess, for which I am very grateful. First thing is the grocery shopping. I do the shopping all the time and especially now with COVID-19, so this isn’t hard. I plan to start cooking Wednesday night, as I work during the day and want to have time to enjoy the process and not rush through it. We usually don’t serve dessert as no one’s hungry at that point in the meal, but I don’t want to take the easy way out, so dessert we shall have. My plan is to make the dessert and dips on Wednesday night, chicken soup on Thursday morning, fish and liver on Thursday night, and everything else on Friday.


Wednesday Night: Jumping In

I tackle dessert first, chocolate mousse cups from a Maida Heatter cookbook. My grandmother found this recipe years ago, and it’s always a winner. I melt Noblesse chocolate in a pan, stirring constantly so it will be smooth. Then I start beating the eggs in a mixer. I’m about to add the melted chocolate when I realize I was supposed to separate the eggs. I quickly crack more eggs, beat the yolks, and add the chocolate. Phew.

The recipe says to “beat the whites until they hold their shape but are not too dry.” I’m not sure what that means so I just use my judgment, and fold the whites into the chocolate one quarter at a time, then pour it into cups. Whip topping goes into the mixer next, with a quarter cup of confectioners’ sugar, and dessert is done. I don’t love mayonnaise, so all the dips I prepare will be mayo free. I slice some jalapenos into circles, including the seeds and membrane as I like it spicy, and throw them into a pot with olive oil to saute. Olive tapenade is next.

I put olives and garlic along with a little olive oil and pepper into the food processor. My wife makes delicious tomato dip and I try to do the same: tomatoes, garlic, oil, and spices go into the Braun. Alas, my wife wins this one as it’s not as good as hers, but it’s good enough. Since mornings are usually hectic I decide to prep the soup tonight. I peel parsnip and carrot, and put chicken bones into Wrap ’n Boil bags. My mother recommended adding turkey necks as well, but there were none available when I went shopping, so we’ll have to do without. I put everything into a pan, cover it with foil, and stick it in the fridge. On Thursday morning, I fill up a pot with water and add my prepped veggies with a chicken leg and salt and let the magic happen. Although my wife isn’t helping me at all with the cooking, I ask her to shut the soup after eight hours or so, before I come home. I taste the soup after work and I am quite pleased with the result. I add a little more salt, and it will be good to go after I skim it Friday morning. I make liver all the time so that’s easy. I sauté onions with a little brown sugar for an hour or so to let them caramelize, then add the liver along with paprika, salt, and pepper. Let it cook for a few minutes and it’s done.

I’m the only one who eats the fish, so I want to make something different. Moroccan-style fish looks interesting and I give it a shot, albeit with tilapia instead of salmon. I dice tomatoes, slice garlic and jalapeños, and add them to a pan with oil. After the mixture cooks for a few minutes, a can of chickpeas joins the party along with a little water. Then the tilapia goes in. Once it cooks through, I remove it from the fire. Although the tilapia falls apart a little, the flavors are there and I can cover it with the chickpeas and sauce for presentation purposes. Since the weather on Friday is supposed to be beautiful, I plan to use my grill for Friday night’s chicken and steak.


Friday Marathon

The first thing I do is get the cholent started. For whatever reason, although I enjoy cooking, I’ve only made cholent three to four times in my life. I put the beans, barley, a potato (I know it’s not Hungarian, but…), meat, and a chicken leg for additional flavor into a Crock- Pot on high. I add water and the regular seasonings (salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder, and ketchup), and let it cook for a few hours before I lower the heat. I add eggs to the cholent, which I plan to mash on Shabbos morning before the seudah. (Note: Make sure the Crock-Pot is off the base before removing the eggs.)

Roasted garlic is easy, but I find it gets oil-logged, so I make it with a twist. Instead of putting it into a pan, I wrap some garlic in silver foil and drizzle a little oil on top of it with salt and pepper. Then I put it in the oven to roast. When it’s ready, I switch the oven to broil to give the garlic more color and texture. I’m doing two mains, so I’m only going to make one side — popcorn cauliflower. I mix olive oil, turmeric, and some other spices, pour it over the cauliflower, and into the oven it goes.

My wife makes a delicious fruit pie which is a great light dessert for Friday night. I slice some peaches, add two boxes of blueberries (ask your LOR how to clean them, or use frozen), dust with flour and sugar, and put it into a round Pyrex dish. Then I mix oats with a little oil and sugar for a great crumble to go on top. I pop the crumble into the oven and get to work marinating the skirt steak. I mix barbecue sauce, bone-sucking sauce, and soy sauce, and marinate the meat so it can absorb the flavor before I grill it in the afternoon. Then I marinate chicken cutlets in honey, brown sugar, and soy sauce. The cutlets will be for the grilled chicken salad that my wife makes every week.

Now I’m in the home stretch. I head outside along with my three-year-old sous chef and get the grill ready for action. I season chicken legs with chicken seasoning and salt, and throw them onto the grill. The legs go skin down so they can get a nice sear and crispy skin. I put the chicken legs on first, since the first time I grilled chicken legs they were still raw when I took them off ! Skirt steak is thin; all it takes is a couple of minutes on each side to get the perfect temperature. The cutlets and mushrooms are last. I monitor them carefully to make sure they’re off the grill with juices intact, and not dried out.


Final Sum Up

After Shabbos I take stock of the leftovers, and note that there’s barely anything left. I guess that means my food was good and my wife and son enjoyed! The food I prepared may have been more American than I want to admit, but it was strongly influenced by my Hungarian background. It was a tiring but fun couple of days, and I now have a new appreciation for what my wife does each week. I’ve also learned that I can’t complain if she serves takeout for supper on Thursday night! I really enjoyed this experience, as did my wife, who now wants to up the ante and have me take on cooking for Yom Tov. Will I accept the challenge?  

Note from the Wife

Yosef did an outstanding job. I wouldn’t expect any less from him on the cooking scene. He’s a natural in the kitchen, although I usually don’t let him into my territory while I’m cooking, so this was a wonderful opportunity — and I definitely enjoyed the break! Everything tasted amazing, with a special mention of the skirt steak, the cholent, and the chocolate mousse! He’s invited back anytime!


Blueberry-Peach Crumble
  • 2 baskets fresh blueberries
  • fresh peaches, cut into pieces
  • sugar and cinnamon
  • flour


  • 34 cup oats
  • 14 cup sugar
  • 14 cup brown sugar
  • 12 cup oil
  • 12 cup pecans, broken by hand into small pieces

Mix fruit with sugar, cinnamon, and a little flour. Place in a glass pie plate. Sprinkle with crumbs. Bake at 350°F

(175°C) for 1 hour until fruit is soft and bubbly.

Note: Substitute with Cortland apples and fresh cranberries in the winter

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