To continue with the theme of religion, I want to tell you all about a Shabbat dinner I hosted the last Friday of May.
Step 1: Figure out the guest list
My initial intentions were not for an all-women dinner as I wanted to invite Boyfriend D (the break-up happened the day after the dinner). I tried to figure out a way to have an even number of men and women and I just couldn’t. So the dinner became an all-women affair.
The women included A (of Adventures in NYC with J & A), my stepmom, my stepmom’s friend R, B (of Girl Friends and Trader Joe’s), E, and my neighbor T. A is getting married in a year to a Jewish man and is slowly going through the converting process. I thought she would appreciate the dinner and time with the other women whose knowledge of Judaism ranged the whole spectrum I talked about last time and whose Shabbat traditions varied from doing nothing to going all out. My stepmom…well, this was my showing off that I could (a) host and (b) make Shabbat. My stepmom’s friend overheard my inviting my stepmom so I asked her, too. About a year ago or so I went to Shabbat dinner at her house so this was also a reciprocal invitation. B is one of my closest friends and the one who asked If I would host this dinner. E is a dear friend, lover of Judaism and Israel, that I just had to invite. And lastly my neighbor T. I adore T and her family (she has the absolutely cutest, sweetest, funniest, and most darling kids you’ve ever met). T and her family fall into the Conservadox/Modern Orthodox part of the spectrum. When I have my annual holiday shindig, her husband usually comes and she stays home with the kids. I was finally able to have her over.
Step 2: Get the hardware
I don’t own candlestick holders, a special kiddish cup, a challah plate, blanket and knife, or benchers (the small books with the prayers, songs, and Grace After Meals). My plan was to borrow candlestick holders from my stepmom and have her bring candles, use a wine glass for the kiddish cup, and a cutting board, napkin, and regular chef’s knife for the challah. When my brother visited home from Israel back in March with his girlfriend, they brought candlestick holders. My stepmom brought these to the dinner and said I could keep them. She also brought candles. E brought two sets of candle holders and tea lights so we had a total of 6 candles to light. About two weeks before the dinner, B handed me a present. Inside was a beautiful kiddish cup with a blessing carved into the interior of the cup. When my stepmom arrived to my house on Friday night, she handed me a wrapped box and said top open it before we sat down for dinner. Inside was a beautiful glass challah plate with white and silver blanket and a knife. Several weeks prior to the dinner, my aunt had me over to go through her collection of benchers. I took all of the ones with Hebrew, English translation, and English transliteration.
Step 3: Plan the menu
I knew from the get-go I wanted to do a semi-traditional Shabbat dinner with gefilte fish and matzah ball soup. Beyond that, I had no clue. E doesn’t eat red meat so all cow derivatives were a no-go. My stepmom is partial to chicken and other healthy dishes. What could I do? I decided to go with “Chef Shaina’s Shabbat Tasting Dinner.” (GASP! Now you have my name AND my picture!!)
Appetizer: I decided to begin with a dairy appetizer as my guests first arrived. I made cornmeal blini bites topped with ricotta, green grapes, and a drizzle of honey. This is one of my favorite appetizers to make as it is delicious, quick, and easy. I made 2 changes: I used almond milk in lieu of regular milk and left the grapes whole.
Challah: Next up was the challah. I bought a frozen braided challah from Aron’s Kissena Farms (my go-to for all my kosher shopping needs, especially meat) that I let defrost and rise while I went to work in the morning. I baked the challah last so it would be warm and fresh out of the oven when we needed it.
Course 1: After HaMotzi, I followed in my aunt’s footsteps and served gefilte fish. I bought a frozen log at Aron’s that I boiled the night before in water seasoned with salt, garlic powder, onion powder, and baby carrots.
Course 2: Since I wanted a traditional Shabbat dinner, we couldn’t not have matzah ball soup. I prefer my soup to have a clear broth and strong flavor so I use 3 turkey necks, approximately 3 chicken breasts, 3 large carrots (peeled) kept whole, 1 white onion cut in half, water to the top, and 5-6 heaping pinches of salt. I let the soup simmer for about 8 hours. When it’s done, I use tongs to remove the necks, carrots, and onion. I place the chicken in the bottom of a large storage container and use a fork to shred it. I then pour the remaining broth through a strainer over the chicken. I made matzah balls from a mix.
Course 3: I love Against All Grain, both the blog and cookbooks. I bought hard copies of both books and had them personally autographed at a book signing Danielle Walker did in NYC last winter.
In one of her cookbooks, Danielle Walker has a recipe for fish tacos where she uses a cumin-based marinade for the fish and butter lettuce for the taco shell. I’ve made the recipe as is with fish and loved it. For my Shabbat dinner, i decided to make the same recipe with chicken (using thinly sliced chicken breast bought at Aron’s). The tacos were topped with a mango, pineapple, avocado salsa. They were delicious! (I’ll be more than happy to share the recipe. Email me if you want it.)
Course 4: When I was recovering from a WOD at the box a few weeks prior to the dinner, I was flipping through a CrossFit magazine that had a line on the cover “Dishes for a Paleo Dinner Party” (or something like that). Me being me (you know, loving to cook and host other people), that’s the first page I turned to. The first recipe was for Cauliflower Cups with Ground Lamb and an Herb Pesto. These were easy to make and tasty but need some tweaking (add salt to the cauliflower mixture). This was my first time ever cooking lamb and I didn’t know how fatty ground lamb is. I questioned why the recipe didn’t ask me to grease the pan before browning the lamb. When I drained the fat and filled an 8-oz glass, I add my answer.
Course 5: About a week before the dinner, Danielle Walker posted a link to Creamy Pesto “Pasta” with Spring Vegetables on the Against All Grain Facebook page. As soon as i saw the recipe, I knew it would be perfect for the dinner. The ingredients are all seasonal so the produce would be very fresh and flavorful. This recipe is labor intensive (especially if you use a Vegetti) but well worth every minute of work. The flavor profiles in the dish are out of this world.
Dessert: Last but not least, we had dessert. I wanted something light and easy that would be a complementary end to the meal. I decided to go with strawberry and raspberry shortcakes. I used the biscuit recipe from Against All Grain, used coconut milk for the whipped cream (whipped with honey and vanilla), then put out fresh strawberries and raspberries to put on top.
Step 4: Put it all together
I bought flowers at Whole Foods for the centerpiece of the table. When everyone arrived, we sat down and lit the candles together. We sang Shalom Aleichem, made kiddush (to which T observed, “I didn’t know you could read Hebrew”), I washed, made HaMotzi and we ate.
Step 5: Plan the next one
Because I’m always thinking about future hosting, I figured I’ll do another Shabbat dinner in September with a paleo/paleo-ish Chinese/Asian food menu. I have recipes for sesame orange chicken and General Tso’s chicken that are paleo and I want to figure out how to make Mei Fun noodles with chicken and beef. It’ll be a slightly heavier meal as we head into fall.
Tell me, do you have Shabbat dinner every week? What are some of your traditions and customs? Until next time!
Oh! if you want any recipes, just email me or post in the comments. I’ll be more than happy to share!