| Man With a Pan |

Out of My Comfort Zone

Illustration by Lea Kron

The Man

Yaakov Langer
Age 29
1 child
Far Rockaway, NY
Marketer and podcaster

I’ve always been into doing out-of-the-box stuff. Comedy, improv, podcasts, creating content, and things with a creative touch. However, when it comes to food, well, let’s just say I use zero percent of my creative juices.

I once made eggs in the summer of 2008, so it’s not fair to say I have zero experience. It’s not that I’m lazy (which I am when it comes to food making), it’s just that my mother and my wife are incredible cooks. I should point out that my wife has an elaborate macaron business and is in grad school to become a food scientist. I’m not the foodie in the relationship.

We’ve just passed our six-year anniversary. It’s been my wife’s dream to one day eat a full dinner made by her husband. Listen, it’s a beautiful idea, but it’s just not me. Along comes the Man with a Pan column, asking us to do this. I know how much it means to Gitta. But I still say no.

Then I think of all of the care, love, and support she’s given me over these past few years. Supporting every project and podcast I’ve worked on. I still say no. Then I think about the fact that she gave birth to our precious little Alexander, so, so thankful, but I’m not doing this.

Then it hits me. What if I went out of my comfort zone just a little (very much a lot)? We all look for opportunities to improve. Maybe this is my chance. It’s the least (most) I could do for my wife. Okay, let’s do this.

Wait, it’s Thursday night. I should probably go shopping now.

Keep It Simple

I want this Shabbos to be the most relaxing Shabbos ever for Gitta. She’s cooked so many for me. I FaceTime my good buddy Abi Rosenberg. I could’ve called many others, but Abi knows that I’m barely capable of boiling a pot of water (I wish this last sentence was a joke) and will guide me towards dummy-proof recipes.

We go over the plan: Keep It Simple. We go through the list, and I have two more hours until Gourmet Glatt closes.

After I ask the staff for the first six items, I realize I need to figure out the next 32 on my own. Thank Hashem, Sara Yael Grossman, a family friend, sees me frantically asking Siri what parsley looks like (again, sadly this is true). She helps me cut my time in half, and I’m on my way home.

Did You Hear Me Say Crock-Pot Fiasco?

The next morning, Friday is in the air. I wake up extra early to get work stuff done so I can use three hours in my day to cook for Shabbos. I’m sure it won’t take longer than three hours.

I usher Gitta and Alexander out and begin to prep the cholent. I find our mini Crock-Pot on the shelf and start cooking (pun intended).

Abi is there to guide me. Thank You, Hashem, for Steve Jobs. Abi is there to let me know that I am putting way too much salt in the cholent and stuff of that nature. Overall, I’m off to a great start. Until. I check my phone to see I got a message from Gitta 12 minutes ago. BTW, I put all cooking utensils, pots and pans, and the Crock-Pot etc. on the table.

I do a quick turnaround and see all the utensils, pots, pans, and a Crock-Pot on the table. It then dawns on me the privileged reality that the Langers own two mini Crock-Pots: one for fleishigs and one for milchigs (is that even a thing?!).

Baruch Hashem, after a call with Gitta, she lets me know that the “milchig” Crock-Pot has never actually been used yet, so we are in the clear. (On a side note, please DM me if you’d like to buy a mini fleishig Crock-Pot.)

That Took All Day?!

We move on to the soup. This was easier than I’d anticipated — a few carrots and other veggies, spices, chicken, and a lot of water. I triple-checked. This is the fleishig pot.

I then move on to the potato kugel. I borrow a potato mixer (is that what it’s called?) from our neighbors because ours broke (I promise you, I clearly was not the one who broke it). I slice the potatoes so they can fit into the machine and have fun cracking the eggs into the onions. I layer the pan with a thin coat of oil and place it in the oven. By the way, Abi is still FaceTiming me.

I prep the hearts of palm salad as well as the deli salad and its dressing. A bunch of dicing, my new word. The broccoli kugel, popcorn cauliflower, and string beans get a drop of spices and a little of this and that and boom, they’re in the oven.

Last up are the mains. The chicken, Abi instructs me, is simple. I just need to mix a few ingredients together to come out with this yummy coating for it. I put the dill salmon in the oven and dice up (I’m such a pro, just call me Yaakov Ramsay) an onion, a yellow pepper, and a red pepper to serve on top.

The meat I chose was a New York strip steak. I sear it on our cast-iron right before Shabbos. Wait. This took me the entire day?!? It’s Shabbos in 30 minutes?!

Almost the End…

Our story almost ends there. After shul, our lovely neighbors the Lubins knock on our door. They probably want to borrow grape juice or something, I think to myself.

Welllll, turns out there was a miscommunication and they think they’re eating by us. Ask me to cook for me and my wife, okay, I got this. Ask me to cook for the Langers and the Lubins??? Um. Well, I did have more than enough food, so it kind of makes sense. (Yitzi Lubin is the opposite of me when it comes to the kitchen; the dude literally cooks elaborate meals for fun.)

I’m happy to say that I think everyone enjoyed and I didn’t give anyone food poisoning.

Shabbos day was a smashing success. Aside from the chicken being too raw, everything else was yummy and delicious. (Maybe I should open a restaurant?)

I learned two things. First off, cooking isn’t as hard as I imagined. It also takes a lot longer than I imagined. Second off, if you put your mind to it, try your hardest, and call Abi Rosenberg for step-by-step directions, you can do anything.

I’ll go back to making podcasts and holding up cardboard signs now.

The Wife’s Take

Yaakov’s mother is an amazing cook. I’m not too shabby myself. That’s (one of) my theories behind why Yaakov has absolutely zero interest in the kitchen. But my husband is a super creative thinker and loves to get people to smile and laugh. I knew the proposal for him to cook an entire Shabbos and document it for all to read would definitely check those boxes.

As a grad student (in food science ironically) and new (is nine months still considered new?) mom, knowing Yaakov could put together a simple dinner would bring me a lot of comfort and relieve some stress. So this challenge spoke to both of us for different reasons.

Then it was Thursday night on the week of the challenge and I started having doubts that he would actually pull through.

“Yaakov, it’s 9 p.m. and you didn’t go shopping yet!”

“Trust me, I’ve got this.”

That’s when I sort of let go and let him take the reins. I kept telling myself that we live in a building, so worse comes to worse, there’s always a neighbor with extra cholent.

I was told to leave the kitchen with baby Alexander and “go somewhere,” so I spent my Friday running errands, visiting my parents, getting coffee with a friend — not typical Friday activities!

Fast-forward to Shabbos night, right after candle lighting, hands down my favorite time of the week. The apartment smells like a regular Shabbos, the table is beautifully set, and I’m ready to witness history. Yaakov’s menu was thoughtful and simple. Garlic confit for the challah, salmon with dill sauce to start, and special mention — the most amazing chicken soup ever. The mains — a seared New York strip steak with chimichurri for Friday night and grilled chicken for Shabbos day — were flavorful albeit slightly underdone. He made up for that with the sides, which were fresh, seasoned well, and perfectly cooked — cauliflower, teriyaki green beans, broccoli kugel, and potato kugel.

In short, my I-don’t-how-to-boil-water husband CAN indeed cook a fabulous Shabbos. I encourage all women to get their husbands, sons, brothers, and fathers who have yet to peel a parsnip into the kitchen for the Man with a Pan challenge and report back your findings! You may be as pleasantly surprised as I was! Great job, Yaak!

The Plan
Friday Night:

Store-bought Challah + Dips

Dill Salmon

Hearts of Palm Salad

Chicken Soup

Strip Steak

Popcorn Cauliflower

Potato Kugel

String Beans

Store-bought Sorbet

Shabbos Lunch:

Store-bought Challah + Dips


Broccoli Kugel

Potato Kugel

Creamy Grilled Chicken

String Beans

Deli Salad

Store-bought Sorbet

Roasted Green Beans

1 bag green beans

Trader Joe’s Soyaki Sauce

3 cubes frozen garlic

Mix together and put in the oven to roast.


(Originally featured in Family Table, Issue 760)

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