Illustration by Lea Kron
Ramat Eshkol, Yerushalayim
I frowned down at the sticky, gooey mixture. Something didn’t look right.
A memory flashed back from this afternoon.
“Hey, you know that when the recipe says to beat the eggs, it means with a mixer, right?” my wife commented.
“Of course,” I replied confidently. “Not sure why you think I wouldn’t know that.”
My mocha ice cream was already stored away from her prying eyes, and I was fairly certain that, electric whisk or not, I had nailed it.
Well. Turns out recipes are written for women, after all.
Yesod #1: Everyone Likes Guy Food
When my wife challenged me to Man with a Pan, a few thoughts came to mind. First, this was a chance to beat her at something she was really good at. Second, this was my opportunity to correct all those things that bother me about Shabbos menus. And third, cooking is easy. Or so I’ve been told.
I asked her for any rules, and she said there were only two. Rule #1 was that she wasn’t allowed to help me, and Rule #2 was that she couldn’t go hungry.
I’ve always disliked the idea of having cake during the meal and pretending it belonged in the main course. If you’re going to have cake and it tastes like cake, then have it during whichever course you want to, but call it what it is. I decided to make “healthy” muffins as a main course item, but with frosting, just to call a spade a spade.
I knew my wife would want something green on the table (she had hinted as much), but there is so much untapped potential in a plain grilled chicken salad. What if I added sautéed onions and mushrooms to it to stand in as vegetables?
I mentally listed a few more items to add to the menu. Yapchik, deli roll, salami, and liver. We were getting somewhere. Ice cream sandwiches? Salmon over sesame noodles for fish? I would have to go all out to make this happen, but hey, a challenge is a challenge.
The next day, my chavrusa called. He was coming back from America and would be in quarantine for two weeks. I immediately offered to make him and his family Shabbos, too.
Double or nothing.
I still needed recipes, though. And some more ideas. I asked my chavrusa for suggestions, and he sent over a recipe for mocha ice cream. Google and my mother supplied everything else — yapchik, pumpkin muffins, and the rest.
I was ready to go.
Yesod #2: Sautéed Onions Are Good in Basically Everything
My kids wake up at about 6 a.m. on a regular day. Tuesday morning was no different, except that my two-year-old and I made chocolate chip cookies instead of playing trucks. (Full disclosure: I hate chocolate chip cookies, and the concept of chocolate chips altogether, for that matter. In fact, it strikes me as overly pretentious. What other food is there that, in addition to being a food by itself, is cut up into little chunks and put into every other food? It’s like having little landmines all over an otherwise delicious cookie. But they’re my wife’s favorite.)
Now, there are few things less helpful than a toddler trying to help, but despite his enthusiasm we got it up in under an hour.
At lunchtime, I was ready to roll. The first thing I did was cut up ten onions and put them in a Crock-Pot overnight with a bit of oil.
I meticulously followed the ice cream recipe, beating the eggs with a whisk until they got just a tiny bit frothy (“Beat until stiff”? What could that possibly mean?), and then added everything else and stuck it into the freezer.
We have a recipe for grilled pitas, which I figured would be easier than trying to make challah. I dug up the recipe from my wife’s recipe collection and put up a batch of dough. I covered it well and left it in the fridge, with an image of that kids’ book with the challah dough swelling up to fill the kitchen and burst through the windows seared into my mind. I brushed the thought away and headed out to second seder.
That night, after discovering my mess of an attempt at ice cream, I remade it with an electric beater and then grilled the pitas. My wife’s pitas usually come out perfect circles, but the dough was really sticky, and mine came out more like giant misshapen blobs of dough. Not so picturesque, but delicious nonetheless.
Yesod #3: Get Your Wife Out of the Kitchen
All it took was a subtle, well-placed hint that we were moving back to America soon and she really didn’t spend enough time with one of her friends, and suddenly, she was out for the night.
As soon as the door closed behind her, I sprang into action. I Googled a recipe for pumpkin muffins, put up chickpeas to simmer for chummus, and boiled water for spaghetti.
So as it turns out, anyone can follow a recipe. Two dozen pumpkin muffins (puffins) later, the house smelled heavenly. I have no idea why these things are a main course item.
Next, I took four large chocolate chip cookies out of the freezer, used a cup to cut circles in the ice cream, and made sandwiches. That was followed by the spaghetti for sesame noodles, and then the chummus. Both pretty simple.
As a finishing flourish, I melted a bar of bittersweet chocolate and dipped my ice cream sandwiches into them to get that chocolate coating. It didn’t come out so pretty, but more chocolate is usually better anyhow. Whatever.
Yesod #4: Have at Least One Obviously Bad Food Item on the Table
I once read that the reason grape soda exists is to make a drink company’s other products taste better by comparison. So that led to the question: what food don’t people like? I took a poll at yeshivah and wasn’t too satisfied with the answers: Chicken on the bone. Gefilte fish. Anything with mushrooms. Really spicy foods.
Then one guy mentioned a word I’d never heard before: Galla. Jellied calf’s foot. It sounded perfect. I wrote it down and made a note to stop by the Sephardi takeout place after second seder.
During lunch on Thursday, I made deli roll. I’ve made it before in my yeshivah days. The secret is duck sauce and lots of sautéed onions (obviously).
The Sephardi takeout place didn’t know what I was talking about.
After night seder, I made a short list: yapchik, chicken marinade, dressing, cholent, and chicken soup. My wife went into the back to FaceTime her mother, so I had the kitchen to myself.
It was actually pretty quick. I put the yapchik in the oven overnight. I make the cholent every week, so no problems there. Chicken soup, as it turns out, is literally the easiest thing in the world. Just cut up vegetables and put them in a pot with some chicken and water. No spices or anything. Just salt.
Dressing for the salad took like ten minutes, and then I was done.
Yesod #5: Make It Look Easy, Even If It Isn’t
Friday morning, I got home from seder at 11:30, and the cooking marathon began.
First was salmon, cut into cubes and doused with teriyaki sauce, then baked for ten minutes in the oven. Then hasselback salami, drenched in a duck sauce/sriracha combo. While that was in, I grilled the chicken and re-sautéed the onions together with mushrooms for the salad. Then came liver and some oven-baked garlic.
I waited for my wife to take the kids out for the grand finale — pareve cream cheese frosting for the puffins, with orange food coloring. I’ve seen my wife cut a hole in the corner of a plastic bag and put the metal frosting insert in, but I didn’t realize that the bag needs to be big enough so the frosting doesn’t squirt out the back when you squeeze it (though through the panic, there was something oddly satisfying about the sight of a huge orange glob of frosting plopping down on the counter).
Finally, I was done. I made a stop at Hadar Geula (an Israeli takeout place) in one last-ditch attempt to get some galla. I missed them by about five minutes. They were closed. So my table wouldn’t have a bad food item. Oh well.
Eating Like Kings
Shabbos went over really well. My wife didn’t have the stomach for more yapchik on Friday night after she’d eaten it on Friday afternoon, so I got my bad food item. Sort of.
We ate like kings. Or yeshivah guys. My wife didn’t go hungry, and the puffins were a big hit, as were the ice cream sandwiches.
I suspect that my wife was so impressed with everything that she would’ve said the food was excellent even if it wasn’t, so I guess I’ll never really know if it was any good or not, but I thought it came out great, and so did my chavrusa, who, as per my conditions, served the puffins for the main course.
I came away with a new appreciation for my wife for how much work goes into making Shabbos. (Though to be fair, I did go a bit over the top.) For any guy reading this, I would just say that it’s really not such a big deal. Anyone can follow a recipe. Plus, you will score brownie points ad infinitum.
The Wife’s Take
Aaron always makes it known he likes an “all brown” color scheme for his plate (think cholent, schnitzel, kugel…), so I’ll admit that I was a bit concerned that we’d go without any greens over Shabbos. Overall I was able to mind my own business, though it wasn’t easy! Keeping my mouth closed when I saw food coloring out on the counter when he said he was working on the side dishes… yikes! Turns out it was for icing for the muffins — I should have seen that one coming. In the end, there were scallions in the sesame noodles, which Aaron insisted fulfilled the “green” requirement. Sigh.
Honestly, it was a great experience for both of us. Seeing how much thought and prep time he put into making Shabbos made me realize that I’ve really got this Shabbos thing down pat! I used to make Shabbos like that as a kallah! He enjoyed stepping into a new role and adding his own twist to the classic Shabbos menu. And the food was delicious, especially the yapchik! This was a lot of fun, and we’ll definitely do it again sometime.
Salmon Cubes over Sesame Noodles
Grilled Chicken Salad with Sautéed Onions and Mushrooms
Pumpkin Muffins with Pareve Cream Cheese Frosting
Ice Cream Sandwiches
More of everything else from Friday night
- 4½ tsp dry yeast
- 6 cups water
- 14 cups flour
- 4 Tbsp sugar (plus a little for the yeast)
- 2 tsp salt
- ½ cup olive oil
Let yeast froth in warm water (with a sprinkle of sugar). Add flour, sugar, salt, and oil, and knead for 10 minutes. Let rise for one hour.
Form thin circles and grill for a couple of minutes each side. You might need to bake them in the oven for a few minutes after the grilling if they’re thick.
(Originally featured in Family Table, Issue 754)
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