| Man With a Pan |

Double the Company, Half the Time

Illustration by Esti Friedman-Saposh

The Man

Joe Blumenthal, age 36

4 kids


Fair Lawn, NJ

The Boys

Eitan and Koby, ages 11 and 9

My wife has been bugging me to do this, and I finally caved when she suggested we choose a summer week when I am not working and the kids have no homework. I am a teacher and have off for the summer, while my wife works the same schedule year-round. We ended up choosing this week, as she was taking a course and I knew she would appreciate the break.

“Man with a Pan… With Half a Plan” is what I wanted to title this article. On Sunday morning, I wrote a few ideas for a menu. While writing the menu I realized: I. Don’t. Do. Side dishes. I can do mains. I have smoked salmon before; I grill chicken and meat all the time. But side dishes, chopping, kugels, and kitchen gadgets. Those I don’t do. My wife has “rules” about side dishes, like how many to serve and what types of food. She was not on board for a protein-
only meal. I also don’t follow recipes or bake. I have no patience for following all those steps.

We decided to invite a family for Shabbos lunch. In our community it’s standard to bring a dish for the meal, so when our company offered, I asked them to bring any side dish. One fewer that I would need to prepare. And it would still be homemade, so that fit within the rules. Our company decided to bring roasted potatoes. One lunch side dish done.

On Monday, I went swimming with my family, so there was no time to think about menus. On Tuesday, I decided I would take care of planning and shopping on Wednesday and Thursday. On Wednesday, I knew I still had time and could take care of the shopping tomorrow. I think by this time my wife was getting nervous. Actually, I know that by this time she was getting nervous. She did clarify, though, that she knew whatever I cooked would taste great. She was just unsure how much or when I would do the cooking. She also reminded me that buying side dishes does not count as “making Shabbos.”

On Thursday, I finally went shopping. By this time I had some ideas, and, knowing my strengths, I bought pre-cut veggies. No chance I was slicing sweet potatoes. Or peeling garlic. When my wife came into the kitchen during her lunch break, I casually told her I would just do all the cooking on Friday so the food would be fresh. She nixed that idea — the kids come home from camp earlier, save time for emergencies, etc. She was pretty adamant about that. So I got started by sautéing some onions and preparing a dish I had put together over Pesach. It has onions, garlic, potatoes, and cubes of salami. My kids devoured it on Pesach, so I knew this was a dish that would go over well on Friday night.

My wife went back to her class and then texted me that the baby’s teacher keeps calling and to please call her back. Turns out Shayna had a fever and would not be allowed to come to camp tomorrow. I guess that’s why I was supposed to start cooking in advance.

On Thursday after camp, I put Koby in charge of stirring the onions on the stove while I set the table. I chopped up some tomatoes and garlic, sprinkled on some salt, and made a tomato salad to have with the challah. Before heading to bed, I spiced the chicken bottoms and then called it a night. This was easy.

On Friday morning, first thing after shul, I turned the oven on to get started. Five minutes later I turned the oven off as I realized I needed to drive carpool. I don’t teach in the summer, so I drive a lot of the camp carpools. Between carpool, my wife’s schedule, and attempting to put the baby in for a nap, I barbecued the chicken for Friday night and roasted the sweet potatoes. I just sprinkled on some brown sugar and stuck them in the oven. I needed to take a break because the baby didn’t want to nap, so I took her out for a walk.

Upon returning, I realized I needed to get moving with this, because the other kids would be home from camp soon. I needed to constantly check in with my wife what was meat and what was pareve and where different items were. I also needed to transfer food multiple times when I realized a pan was not big enough or a pan didn’t come with a cover. While manning the pans (pun intended) on the stove, I roasted the zucchini/yellow squash in the oven, making sure to take it out after less time than the sweet potatoes, which had looked slightly overdone. Apparently you are supposed to use oil for roasting sweet potatoes, and that’s why they came out like that. I also sliced up some avocado and let the slices sit in lots of lemon juice, salt, and pepper.

At this point, I finished putting together the potato/salami dish. We needed this to be as fresh as possible. I then used the mini chopper to make garlic dip. I was really getting the hang of this and was about to make schnitzel as my wife was running out the door to do the first carpool pickup. Shayna has a radar sensor for Imma leaving the house. I even said half in jest, “Tell Shayna not to wake up.” Before the door even closed, Shayna was crying. But I was pretty proud that by the time the kids came home, the schnitzel was done. Closer to Shabbos, I put up a brisket in the crockpot. I even washed the dishes and was ready to leave for shul without feeling rushed.

And that’s when our Shabbos became a little more exciting. Five minutes before Minchah, as I was putting on my jacket, my wife received a text from our company for the following Shabbos, asking for our address and what time we would be starting our seudah. It did not matter how that miscommunication happened…but we were now hosting two families instead of one. And I don’t do side dishes. So those were a little skimpy. And now it was time for Minchah. My wife pulled a gefilte fish out of the freezer and called a friend and obtained some pumpkin muffins. We were supposed to have meat for the appetizer at Shabbos lunch, so we did some shuffling around to accommodate this very last-minute change.

I knew I had pulled off an excellent meal for Friday night and was not surprised that the chicken was polished off and everyone went back for second and third helpings of the potato/salami dish. The tomato salad and garlic dip were also really good. It was lunch I was most nervous about. Before starting, I mixed a bag of coleslaw with store-bought coleslaw dressing. We had never seen this particular dressing before and were pleasantly surprised at how good it was. And this counted as a salad in my wife’s book. We started off with the same tomato salad and garlic dip from Friday night, coleslaw, sliced avocado, and gefilte fish. For the main, I plated all the food and the spread looked pretty good, if I do say so myself. For not following any recipes, not having much of a plan, and a very last-minute company change, I think I did pretty well, but I think I’m happy to stick with my grilling and smoking specialties and leave the other dishes to other people.

Eitan and Koby

E: My brother and I made a cake called Oreo Ripple Coffee Cake, from The Kosher Palette. The cake was hard and fun to make. I decided to split the steps with him and take turns for each step of the recipe. We had to make it on Wednesday because I went to Dreamworks Water Park at American Dream Mall on a camp trip Thursday night.

K: When Eitan was on his trip, I glazed the cake. The recipe called for a plain sugar glaze. However, we like chocolate and coffee and I decided to use those flavors instead. First, I melted chocolate chips in the microwave and spread it on the cake. Next, I made the coffee glaze from the Bais Yaakov Cookbook. This glaze is so good; we use it on so many desserts. I spread this on top of the chocolate layer. Making both of these glazes took about an hour-and- a-half and at this point I needed to go to bed but was allowed to lick the bowl for five minutes. I never licked the bowls clean so fast!

E: Our guests were really impressed with how the cake looked, and I’m surprised the cake tasted so good.

The Wife’s Take

This was amazing! It was so nice on Erev Shabbos to get the kids ready without worrying about the many dishes in the sink. I told Joe I knew everything would taste delicious, and I was right. The tomato salad and garlic dip we started off with were excellent. The chicken on Friday night was spiced and barbecued well and was so juicy. We all loved the potato/salami dish. At Shabbos lunch, even with company, Joe wanted to plate and serve the food, so I had a break then, too, which was really nice. I was surprised how well the avocado lasted in the fridge overnight. That was finished off pretty quickly. Our company particularly loved the brisket. I think it will be hard to convince Joe to ever do this again, but I give him five stars for the effort, the cleanup, the taste, and even the presentation!

The Plan

Friday Night:

Challah (my wife’s, from the freezer)

Tomato Salad

Garlic Dip

Soup (my wife’s)

BBQ Chicken Bottoms

Potato/Salami Sauté

Roasted Zucchini/Yellow Squash

Shabbos Lunch:

Challah [my wife’s (from the freezer)]

Gefilte Fish [my wife’s (from the freezer)]

Tomato Salad

Garlic Dip

Avocado Slices in Lemon Juice


Franks ’n Blanks (store bought)


Brisket in Crockpot

Roasted Zucchini/Yellow Squash

Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Roasted Potatoes (from guest family #1)

Pumpkin Muffins (my friend’s freezer)

Oreo Ripple Coffee Cake with Chocolate and Coffee Glazes (The Kosher Palette/Bais Yaakov Cookbook)

Babka (from guest family #2)

Sliced Fruit (store bought)

Tomato Salad

I don’t do recipes, so there are no measurements!

  • grape tomatoes, sliced in half or thirds, depending on their size
  • a few garlic cloves, sliced
  • olive oil
  • salt

Combine all ingredients and allow to marinate a few hours before serving. Tastes better the longer it sits in the fridge.


(Originally featured in Family Table, Issue 807)

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