Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Cooking for brides

Hachnasat Kallah is my favorite Mitzvah. All the young brides for whom I made Sheva Brachot, and all the brides that took my classes know that: I am in their corner!
Recently I was asked to write a column about cooking for newlyweds in the Five Towns magazine. Judjing by the number of grateful e-mails I received, It was quite useful. Since this magazine's site is not set up yet, I would like to share this article with all of you. Enjoy the ridiculously simple dishes, and the quiet and delicious times with your husband!


A few years ago, my husband passed on to me David Halberstam’s wonderful book “the fifties”, which I read with great fascination. In one of its chapters, the young bride would doll herself up in the late afternoon and, at the first sound of the bell, race to open the door for her husband, all smiles and endearments, handing him his favorite drink, ushering him into the spotless dining room, the table set up with all its finery, fresh flowers adorning the table, the air fragrant with the promise of a delicious dinner. As we all know, this paradigm of conjugal bliss is gone, and who can honestly say they are sorry to see it go?

Fast forward fifty some odd years: Cooking for two in this harried world in these hard times. On the face of it, investing all that time for just two people sounds like such a waste. Especially when you consider that most brides come with little or no knowledge of how to whip up a meal, which ultimately means they would spend even more time at it than an experienced cook for uncertain results at best, a further deterrent. As a result, most young brides just run to the corner deli and buy a few pints of whatever drab institutional stuff they can get their hands on, and round it all up with pizza or sandwiches, and serve their purchases more often than not on disposable dishes, probably because they sense, correctly in my view, that the second rate meal they are about to serve is not worthy of soiling the spanking new china and cutlery they have just gone to such great pains to acquire. (Remember the bridal registry?)

Gosh, what a difference half a century can make in the politics of domestic life! The first model was quickly discarded, because it seems that the highlight of the housewife’s otherwise uneventful day was the dinner hour when she brought all her charms and hard work to bear. The second model, well, what can I say? It dies hard. I hope and pray it is on its way out as well, because the uninspired “treats” it provides put a serious damper on the romantic atmosphere so essential to the togetherness of a new couple who, just yesterday, were strangers to each other, and who need all the props (I hope the word is not too crass) they can get.

So, does this modest cook presume to have a solution? I can only share with you what I did in the first year of my marriage, which became the objects of countless bridal classes. Judging by all the grateful e-mails I receive about these classes (one of them read: “Dear Levana, my husband loves you”), it is certainly worth a shot here. I have too unfussy an approach to food and cooking to ever let it take too much of my time at home (outside, of course, it is my lifework). I started by establishing the guidelines, and have never veered away from them, even when cooking for hundreds. No store bought prepared foods, no junk, no just-add-water foods, no bottled salad dressings. I was now ready to work with all the rest, and yes, there is a lot left, and only the best and most wholesome to boot. Is half an hour labor a day acceptable to you if the reward is a whole wonderful meal from start to finish, even if you know hardly anything about cooking? One hour baking time for dishes that will last you two meals? I am including a soup, which takes 15 minutes to prepare and 2 hours to cook but makes over a gallon, which means very ample servings for 4 meals. Of course I don’t mean you should serve it everyday of the week. Serve one quart at dinner, freeze the others containers and take them out at a later time, they will be on tap! Same goes for salad dressing: multiply the recipe, and store it in a big glass jar. When you see how delicious salads can be when dressed properly, you will enjoy them more often.

These recipes are hardly recipes, they work beautifully, mostly by default, because of what I don’t do to them: I put absolutely nothing that will ruin them. So, let’s start with the bare bones, and in further columns we will move up to more elaborate preparations when you have mastered the basics. Here then some of my family’s favorites, to this day: roasted salmon, vegetable soup, roast chicken and potatoes, tossed salad and chocolate chip cookies


1 pound salmon fillet, skinned and boned, cut into 1inch slivers, a little wider if this is your main course

first way:

preheat oven to 425 degrees. place salmon in one layer in a baking pan. Nothing on whatsoever. bake 20 minutes. not a minute more.

second way:

same temperature and cooking time. Season salmon with salt, pepper, olive oil, fresh lemon juice, dry thyme and basil


3 quarts (12 cups water)

1/3 cup olive oil

1 large onion, peeled and quartered

6 cloves garlic

1 large bunch flat parsley

1 large bunch dill

6 ribs celery, peeled and cut in large chunks

3 large potatoes, cut in small cubes

2 large carrots, cut in small cubes

2 large sweet potatoes, cut in small cubes

1 tablespoon salt

Bring water and olive oil to boil in a wide bottom pot. In a food processor, using the metal chopping blade, coarsely grind the onion, garlic, parsley, dill and celery. Add to the pot. Add remaining ingredients. Reduce the temperature to medium and cook, covered, 1 1/2 hours. Taste the soup: add a little water if it is too thick, and a little salt if necessary. Let everyone use ground pepper in their own bowl.

second way:

Saute the ground mixture (onion, garlic, celery, parsley, dill) in the olive oil until wilted, before adding the water and remaining ingredients.


Add one or 2 of the following: canned crushed tomatoes, split peas, lentils, bay leaves; skip the potatoes if you are using split peas or lentils


one whole chicken, about 3 1/2 pounds

1 large onion, sliced in a food processor

4 large potatoes or sweet potatoes, cut in 2 inch cubes

2 tablespoons olive oil

first way:

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. place the onion slices in the bottom of a baking pan just large enough to fit your ingredients in one layer. Place the chicken breast side down on top of onion, potatoes all around. Drizzle the oil over the potatoes. Bake 45 minutes. Turn the chicken breast side up, and toss the potatoes. Bake 15 to 20 minutes longer

second way:

Same temperature same cooking time same procedure. Season chicken with dry herbs, lemon juice, paprika, garlic etc... eliminate the potatoes if you would rather not have them, just seasoned roast chicken


romaine lettuce torn into bite size pieces, and perfectly dried (no iceberg)

sliced kirbies

tomato wedges

small wedge onion, minced

Put all greens in a salad bowl. If you would like, add some grated carrots, sprouts, radishes, cranberries or raisins, chopped nuts


first way:

1/3 cup olive oil. 1/4 cup cider vinegar or fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.

second way: same ingredients plus 2 tablespoons dijon mustard, a little water, 1 teaspoon oregano, 2 cloves minced garlic

chocolate chip cookies

2 eggs

3/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 tablespoon vanilla

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

good pinch salt

1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips, best quality

Preheat the oven to 375*f. Cream the eggs and sugars with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the oil and vanilla, and mix in thoroughly. Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt, and mix at low speed. Fold in the chips by hand. Drop the cookies in heaping teaspoonfuls onto a cookie sheet lined with foil, 1 inch apart.

If the baking tray is professional heavy gauge, bake for 10-11 minutes. If it is lighter, bake for 8-9 minutes. The cookies will firm up as they cool, so do not be tempted to bake them longer or they will harden. Bake only one tray at a time (you will get 2 trays total)

Store in tin boxes. Do not refrigerate. Separate each layer of cookies with foil or wax paper so they don=t stick together.

Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
I've been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

Thumbs up, and keep it going!

Christian, iwspo.net
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