EatWith September: On the Menu

About 6 months ago we started hosting dinners in our home through EatWith, a global community that connects guests with welcoming hosts to eat meals in the hosts home. It’s kind of like AirBnb, but for eating. These are also much more than meals you would have if you went to a restaurant, these are experiences.

Every meal we’ve hosted has been amazing. We’ve done mostly Shabbat dinners for a couple of reasons. The first is that it is the night of the week that we typically have people over, and I cook for two days regardless. Secondly, we love to share our traditions about Shabbat. Our meals have been mixes of friends and strangers, locals and tourists, and a mix of different beliefs and religions.

We put a lot into these meals. How we frame them on the website, how the flow of the evening looks, who should meet or sit next to whom, and of course, the menu. I spend so many hours putting together a menu, and then editing it until it feels perfect. Since I have this blog space now I wanted to share the menus and the experience of welcoming a group of perfect strangers into our home for an intimate dinner. It’s really very awesome.

This month’s “Shabbat Table Astoria” was unique in that all our eight guests worked for the same company in Sweden and were in New York City for a work event. None of them were Jewish, but all were very excited to hear about our traditions and participate.

When I plan a menu it tends to be very vegetarian friendly with only one meat dish and plenty of seasonal produce featured throughout. I serve family style, so dishes get passed and everything is homemade. This was the menu:

To Start:
Two loaves of homemade challah, one plain and one za’atar
White bean herb dip with sage, parsley, mint and lemon
Avocado hummus
Roasted tomato tart with caramelized onions, topped with fresh basil
Mixed baby kale salad with a pomegranate vinaigrette
For the Main: 
Herbed and lemon roasted chicken
Roasted sweet potatoes and grapes with rosemary in honey balsamic reduction
Zucchini, corn, and cilantro frittata
Grilled portobello mushrooms with chimichurri sauce

Something Sweet: 
Lemon olive oil cake
Mint Tea

To Take-Home: 
Chocolate chip cookie sandwich

The menu is designed for a dinner party. It keeps in mind when the stove needs to be used and at what temp, what can be prepared in advance and warmed up in the oven last minute, and what can be served at room temperature. For instance the frittata’s ingredients were prepared in advanced, re-heated in the pan, and the eggs were added while Ari was carving chickens because to cook the eggs and cut up the bird take about the same amount of time. Plus you get hot frittata.

When hosting and cooking a meal for complete strangers there’s a balance that I’m still learning how to master. When you host you need to be available to your guests, make sure everyone is comfortable, and that food, drink, and conversation are flowing.
Sometimes that means compromising on other things, like plating. That’s not to say that I don’t work super hard to make sure my food looks beautiful but when I’m shuttling between two rooms and trying to keep a balance they often don’t end up as picture perfect as I would like. But they are family style and rustic.

It also means that I forget to snap photos of all my food. Ari holding chickens was actually shot by Clay Williams for EatWith months ago. Plus the lighting in our apartment by night is so eh..what I’m trying to say is: forgive me!

The dinner turned out really wonderful. We had such great conversation and sharing of cultures and countries. The group happened to be all women, many of them mothers, and hearing about how Sweden takes care of its working parents (very well) was amazing. It also turned out that not all of our guests knew each other because they work for such a large company, so there was meeting new people all around the table.
Ultimately the purpose of this post is to share with you the complete (and easily replicable) menu, and a little of the experience of hosting in our home. Because we host monthly I’ll share a different side of the experience in future posts. It’s really a unique experience on both ends. I highly recommend checking out the website to see who’s hosting in your area, or getting in touch with the company about setting up your own offerings!
If there are dishes from this menu that you’d like the recipe for let me know and I’ll put together a post for that specifically!

Zucchini Pasta with Roasted Corn, Edamame, and Crispy Shallots

Whenever Ari travels I go a little food crazy. He was in Berlin for work last week and while he’s eating/working his way across that city I’m doing some serious damage over here. For instance,  one of the first things I did was schedule a ramen date with my good friend. Ari doesn’t “believe” in ramen the way I do. He doesn’t really get eating a whole bowl of salt and carbs for dinner whereas to me, that makes perfect sense. (He also doesn’t really “believe” in pizza for similar reasons…so I also eat pizza when he’s away.) I made an all dark meat chicken dish and I whipped up some ice cream with mascarpone cheese. Not super healthy but so super good.

So when I woke up this morning feeling the effects of my eating adventures I hit the fridge and pulled out only foods that had once been in the ground.

Zucchini is such an awesome and versatile vegetable. Grating it into long thin strips, either on a box grater or with a vegetable peeler, is an easy way to prep and cook it quickly. It’s also a fun way to pretend you’re eating pasta when your body is telling you not to touch another flour-based food for at least 24 hours.

From the cooking I do in the soup kitchen I’ve learned that a great way to transform corn is to roast it. This works especially well for canned corn or if your fresh corn is starting to go (which mine was). If roasted just long enough it changes the texture and brings out a deeper richness and sweetness than what’s already naturally there in the corn. Don’t you want to stick a spoon in that?

Recently when I’ve bought shallots I’ve had to purchase a bunch at once -either because they came bundled or they were too small to buy just a few. Since there were about a dozen in my kitchen I decided to get some super crispy to add an onion-y crunch to the dish. I might have bent my own breakfast rules of the day but I decided to fry them till they were browned and crispy. Cooking the shallots was a test of patience but totally worth it.
Picture Picture
I don’t have too much experience deep frying (I promise I’m working very hard to gain more) so these were watched very carefully. It took about 15 minutes to get to the brown I wanted. This was the most time intensive part of the whole dish but it was oh-so-worth the extra effort.

Once all the ingredients were ready to go it took just a couple minutes to pull it all together into the best faux-pasta dish you’ve ever had. This would be a great dish to have prepared ahead of time and just thrown into a pan at the last second before serving.

When I dove into it I piled on a ton of the shallots and a few pieces of shaved parmesan cheese. It was a really completely terrific dish. So much so that I almost didn’t miss having bread with my “pasta”…almost.

Zucchini Pasta with Roasted Corn, Edamame, and Crispy Shallots

Serves: Makes 2-4 servings depending on portion size

Ingredients
  • 2 Medium sized zucchini
  • 2 Cloves garlic, minced
  • 2-3 Tbsp Lemon juice to taste
  • Dried red pepper flakes
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Ears of fresh corn or one small 15-16 oz can of corn
  • 2 tsp Paprika
  • ¼-1/2 tsp Cayenne pepper
  • ½-3/4 cup Shelled edamame, frozen or fresh
  • 3 small or 2 medium Shallots sliced into thin rings
  • ¾ cup Vegetable oil
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Grate the zucchini on a box grater using the largest holes. Start at the bottom and pull the whole length of the zucchini along the grater to create long thin strands. Fight the urge to go back and forth! Grate it until you reach the seeds/the core. Then turn to the next side and start again. Set zucchini pasta aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 400°F
  3. If using fresh corn, cook the corn first (boiled or microwaved) and then cut the kernels off the cob. If using canned corn, drain and rinse corn well. Toss corn with 1 Tbsp olive oil, paprika, and salt to taste. Spread corn on parchment paper lined baking sheet. Roast for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and using a spoon, mix the corn and place back in the oven for another 10 minutes. Remove and set aside.
  4. Cook the edamame in boiling salted water according the package directions (or your knowledge of cooking edamame). When finished, drain and set aside.
  5. Place the shallots in a small saucepan and add the vegetable oil. Put the pan on medium heat and cook for 15 minutes stirring occasionally. Lower the heat if they start browning too quickly. Remove them from the oil with a slotted spoon and let them rest on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt while still warm. (I used sea salt on the shallots.) They will continue to crisp up as they cool.
  6. In a skillet over medium heat, warm 1 Tbsp olive oil and add the garlic. Let the garlic soften and brown a little for about 2 minutes and then add the zucchini, lemon juice, chili flakes, and salt. Stir the zucchini so that it cooks evenly. Cook for 2-3 minutes until the zucchini is softened but still has a bite.
  7. Once zucchini is finished, gently toss all the ingredients together in a large bowl and serve. The shallots make a great garnish and sprinkling some parmesan cheese on is just delicious. And tomorrow I'm going to have the leftovers with a hunk of bread.

Crispy shallots adapted from a New York Times recipe 

Apple, Fig Jam, and Goat Cheese Galette

I’m really glad that you don’t get to hear me try to pronounce ‘galette‘ with my “French” accent. To date I have at least three ways of saying it and none of them are correct.You know that “new kitchen appliance” I mentioned last week? It was a new food processor! The first thing I wanted to whip up in it was dough since I couldn’t do that in our old one. I’ve made loads of pies crusts by hand over the years using shortening and following this recipe. But a pie crust made with butter and cut into the flour by hand? Completely unsuccessful…until now.

For the past two years I’ve had a recipe for a breakfast galette pinned to my food board on Pinterest but because of a few completely failed pie crusts I never attempted a butter crust by hand again. Does that happen to anyone else? You mess up a recipe a few times and then just throw in the towel. Maybe stomp your foot angrily in the process? After a few gluey crusts and a couple crumbled messes I gave up. But the second I had this food processor in went the flour, sugar, salt, and butter without fear. The result was magical beautiful dough.Making a galette got stuck in my head after I saw figs beginning to crop up and I couldn’t get the idea of making a breakfast galette out of my head. In the interest of being honest, the original recipe I pulled together was for a fig/pear/brie galette. The result while not terrible was way less than perfect. The brie wasn’t melting right, the pears had too much liquid in them, and the figs dried out very quickly in the oven. After days of racking my head and reading everything I could about galette’s I edited slightly and started again.

The biggest change were the figs needed to be used differently than just in slices. Many recipes for galette’s talked about a layer of preserves underneath the main components so I took those beautiful figs, apologized for what I was about to do to them, and turned them into jam.
In the time that had gone by since I started playing around with this, real local apples started cropping up so I snagged a few gala apples to replace the pears. And because the brie wasn’t right I swapped it out for some goat cheese. A new combination was born.
Making the galette was awesome because it’s so rustic and homey. To me rustic is another word for: doesn’t haven’t to be perfectly put into place. It wasn’t a perfect circle, but who cares! It’s rustic.Even though this wasn’t straight up breakfast (maybe more dessert?), I still couldn’t help myself and I put an egg on it. Putting an egg on foods is my culinary equivalent to “put a bird on it”. Eggs make everything even more fantastic.

This made the perfect crossover dish for summer to fall and such a delicious breakfast to boot! Sometimes It’s nice being an adult and not having your mom point out that your eating what’s basically pie, first thing in the morning. Sorry mom, just can’t help myself!

Apple, Fig Jam, and Goat Cheese Galette
Ingredients
Dough
  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 6 Tbsp unsalted butter, cold but just softened, cut in ½-inch pieces
  • 3½ Tbsp ice water
Fig Jam
  • 1 pint of figs, stems removed and halved
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 3 Tbsp honey
  • 5 sprigs fresh thyme
Apples
  • 2 medium apples (your favorite ones for baking - I used Gala and Granny Smith would have been good too) sliced, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
  • Lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
Assembly
  • Goat cheese, softened at room temperature and  crumbled
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tbsp milk
  • Cinnamon and sugar to sprinkle on top
Instructions
  1. In a food processor, or by hand, pulse together the dry ingredients. Once combined, add the butter in and process till it's pea sized and coarse. While the processor is on, add the water in slowly by the tablespoon until the dough comes together. Take it out and flatten it to a disc and wrap it in plastic wrap. Place dough in the fridge for at least 45 minutes- 1 hour.
  2. For the jam you can definitely use store-bought preserves or make your own - it's really very easy! Toss the figs, lemon juice and honey together in a bowl and let sit for 15 minutes until the figs begin to break down a bit. Over medium heat in a small saucepan, empty the contents of the bowl and add the thyme and a ½ cup of water. Allow the liquid to come to a boil and then lower the heat to simmer. Cook for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally until the figs are broken down. If the liquid fully boils off, add a little water to keep the figs from sticking to the bottom of the pan. The figs I used, black mission figs, never fully broke down so I blended them up (after removed the thyme stems) at the very end and it was perfect.
  3. Prepare the apples by tossing the slices with lemon juice and sugar.
  4. Preheat oven to 400°F
  5. Remove the dough from the refrigerator (let it soften a little if it's been in over an hour) and, on a well floured surface, roll it out to about an ⅛ inch thickness and 12-14 inches in diameter.
  6. Gently transfer the rolled out dough to a parchment paper lined baking sheet.
  7. Assemble the galette by spreading the jam first leaving about 2 inches from the edge empty (for the crust). Sprinkle goat cheese on next. Finally add the apples. You can layer them in a pattern or not but make sure not to pile them high or they won't cook through.
  8. Pull up the crust. My favorite way is to work my way around gently pinching together and then layering pieces of dough on top of each other. I recommend going for a flat design  because if it's sticking up, it will most likely open up in the oven and everything will spill out.
  9. Next beat the egg and milk together and lightly brush the whole crust. Sprinkle a mix of brown sugar and cinnamon over the top focusing on the crust but on top of the apples is great too!
  10. Bake for about 45 minutes (or until very golden brown but not burnt!) on a center rack in the oven, and every 15 minutes rotate the tray to get an even bake.
  11. Slice it up and enjoy while it's warm. Egg yolks are optional but highly encouraged! To egg-ify your slice take a yolk and super gently (you can see in my photo above that I was only half gentle) place it on top and slide it back in the oven for about 2 minutes or until the yolk is set but still runny.

Dough recipe from Smitten Kitchen 

Fried Polenta with Tomatoes and Mushrooms 

This past week I was taking stock of our limited shelf space in the kitchen because I was thinking about buying a new piece of kitchen equipment. I was sitting on the floor trying to create space on the bottom rack of one of my favorite Ikea purchases of all time and playing tetris with an ice cream maker, a food processor, a hot water heater, and all my different sugars and grains. This, of course led to me sorting through all my containers to see what  hadn’t been used in a while and that’s when I saw the corn meal.Typically, I’m buying corn meal to coat the bottom of loaves of bread and also because I’m thinking about how great some hot corn bread would be. (I haven’t made corn bread in years.) It goes like this: buy a package of corn meal, use a little, purge it eventually, and then, soon after, buy a new bag.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been binging on episodes of Chopped recently, but “polenta!” was the first thing I that came to mind about how to put this corn meal to use. Not only haven’t I cooked much polenta but I haven’t eaten much of it either. My only real contact with it at home was buying those logs in the grocery and trying to slice off discs to fry which never really won me over. I set to work scouring my cookbooks and the internet for advice on how to cook it. Turns out…there are so many ways to cook polenta!

This took a few tries to get right. Polenta, like risotto, needs a lot of attention but corn meal might just be fussier than arborio rice. After totally botching the first attempt, it got much easier. The internet taught me some tricks like sifting the cornmeal through my fingers and working really slowly in the beginning. It’s actually reminded me of that challenge when you’re a kid: pat your head with one hand and rub your belly with the other at the same time. This adult-in-the-kitchen version is whisk quickly with one hand and slowly sift in corn meal with the other.

I sampled a bowl of polenta from a less-than-perfect batch and it was really very good (even if it was kinda lumpy). I topped it with cheese and hot sauce. I go through hot sauce at an alarming rate. But for this recipe though I had frying it on my mind so I let the winning polenta cool in a loaf pan and left it in the fridge overnight to set. Lunchtime the next day all I had to do was cut slices and fry.

This is full on savory. The polenta was made with stock and I mixed half a cup of grated sharp cheddar cheese into it. To top it off, since I’m still eating up as many tomatoes as possible, I roasted up some grape tomatoes with garlic, and then sautéed a mix of mushrooms with thyme to go with it. Because in my head cheese, tomatoes, and mushrooms all go so well on a pizza so why not a polenta! Mmmpizza…
This was a little time intensive to put together but totally worth it. It definitely got me over my uncertainty about cooking polenta and it turns out it’s easy enough to whisk up a pot of it. I can see myself making this as a quick app before a meal because everything can be made in advance and then brought together beautifully at the last minute. Also if you cool the polenta in a flatter pan (but keeping it thick enough), you can cut out different shapes to serve as edible plates for all sorts of toppings.
Fried Polenta with Tomatoes and Mushrooms

Serves: Makes 3-4 larger servings or 6-8 smaller depending on how you cut the polenta

Ingredients
Polenta
  • 1 Cup Corn Meal
  • 3 cups + 2 Tbsp Stock*
  • ½ Cup of Sharp Cheddar Cheese, Grated (optional)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Butter or Oil for Frying
  • Cilantro to Garnish (optional)
Tomatoes
  • 1 Pint Grape Tomatoes
  • 6 Cloves of Garlic, Smashed
  • 1 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
Mushrooms
  • A mix of Shiitake, Portobello, and Crimini/Button Mushrooms, chopped into cubes and slices
  • 3-4 Sprigs Fresh Thyme
  • 1-2 tsp Olive Oil
  • Salt, Pepper, and Dried Red Pepper Flakes to taste
Instructions
For the Polenta
  1. Bring the stock to a boil over medium-high heat in a lidded pan. If the stock you're using is not salted, add salt to the water (start with about a tsp, you can always adjust later). Once the stock is boiled sift the corn meal by the handful into the stock very slowly, whisking quickly but gently the whole time (this will help you get fewer lumps). Keep whisking once till it's all incorporated and smooth.
  2. Lower the heat to very low and cover.
  3. Set a timer for 8 minutes. After 8 minutes take the lid off and give it a good whisk reincorporating everything and making sure it doesn't dry out. You might think it looks done but it should ideally cook for 30-40 minutes. Give it a taste now and taste again in 30 min - you'll notice a sweetness and richness that wasn't there before. Keep whisking every 8 minutes and replacing the lid after each session (do this about 4 times)
  4. At the very end whisk in the cheese and salt/pepper to taste. I fried my polenta in a non-stick pan. If you don't have a non-stick the cheese you mixed in might cause the polenta to "melt" a little while frying, making it stick. If you'd prefer not to gamble you can also melt the cheese over the polenta once it's fried and done.
  5. Pour out the polenta immediately into the form you want into to mold to. I used a loaf pan. Let it cool fully, then cover and place in the fridge for at least a couple hours or overnight.
  6. When ready to fry slice or use a shape (cup, cookie cutter...) to make individual pieces. I fried mine in  butter over medium heat-high till each side was crispy and golden (about 3-4 minutes for each side).
For the Tomatoes
  1. Preheat oven to 400°F
  2. Toss all the ingredients on a parchment lined sheet tray together and roast 18-20 minutes or until garlic is golden and tomatoes are popping open and have a nice brown on them.
For the Mushrooms
  1. Cook everything together in a pan over medium heat until all the water in the mushrooms has cooked out.
To Serve
  1. Mix together the tomatoes and mushrooms and spoon over the fried polenta slices. Optional: garnish with cilantro.
Notes
*I used a meatless/pareve "No Chicken" stock from Imagine because I find it richer and more flavorful than the vegetable versions but any stock would be great here

Herb Packed Turkey Meatballs

Earlier in the summer, a group of friends and I gathered at an epic pop-up white dinner in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. We dressed in white from head to toe and brought along food to share. As one of the table hosts, I wanted to bring something heartier than a salad or cheese plate, easy to transport, not too heavy, and that would be enough for 16 people without breaking my wallet.

While thinking about what to make I remembered this sweet and sour mini-meatball dish that my mom used to make when we had large family gatherings. The meatballs were small and you could eat several without filling up. They made for a great appetizer.

For the past few years I’ve been playing with ground turkey meat on and off. I’m actually not a fan of turkey meat (even on Thanksgiving) but it’s healthier than red meat. We also only use kosher meat in our home and it’s way easier to find ground turkey than it is to find ground chicken. The (fun) challenge with meatballs is transforming the turkey into a dish that’s packed with flavor and not too dry.
I very clearly remember my moms meatballs being teeny tiny and so I tip my hat to her on, what must have been, crazy amounts of patience to make so many. When it comes to meatballs, I didn’t inherit that patience.

For this recipe, and for the dish I made for the popup over the summer, I shaped medium sized balls. When using my hands started to take forever I began experimenting with spoons. Turns out a tablespoon measure makes a perfect two-bite ball.It also keeps the meatballs from getting too dense and leaves things way less messy. I’m typically not the most graceful but somehow meatballs always took me to a new level of gracelessness and I’d find myself disinfecting, as I went along, to clean up bits of turkey from the strangest places.

In taking on the “making turkey flavorful and not dry” challenge, I’ve experimented with loads of different spices/fillings and sauces. This recipe comes out on top. It’s all about herbs and bright lemon freshness paired with fruit and spice.
While these definitely paired perfectly with the summer months there’s nothing about them that wouldn’t be just as great when the temperature drops a few degrees.

So, in honor of heading back to work and school let’s make fun and delicious meatballs. They are truly perfect for a weeknight meal. They can store easily for a few days and won’t dry out if reheated in the sauce. Serve them in a roll, on some rice, or for fast access… just stick a fork in ’em.


Herb Packed Turkey Meatballs in a Sweet and Spicy Sauce

Serves: 16-18 meatballs depending on size

Ingredients
Meatballs
  • 1 lb Ground Turkey Meat
  • 2.5 Tbsp Chopped Parsley
  • 2 Tbsp Chopped Mint
  • 1 Tbsp Chopped Dill
  • Zest of 1 lemon or about 1 Tbsp
  • 1 Shallot Minced or ½ of a small white Onion Minced
  • 1 Egg
  • ½-3/4 cup Breadcrumbs (I prefer Panko)
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • Pepper to taste*
  • Olive Oil
Sauce
  • 1 Cup Fruit Preserves - My favorites are Peach or Apricot
  • 1 Cup Orange Juice
  • 3 Tbsp Ketchup
  • ½-1 tsp Dried Red Pepper Flakes
  • ½ Tbsp Soy Sauce
  • 1 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
Instructions
  1. Place all the ingredients (minus the olive oil) in a large bowl and use your hands to bring it all together (this is my favorite part!). If the mixture feels very wet add a ¼ cup more breadcrumbs. Too much breadcrumb and your meatballs won't hold together. Mix till all the ingredients are evenly distributed.
  2. On the stovetop, over medium-high, heat enough oil to cover the bottom of an oven-safe heavy bottomed pot or pan. Use your favorite method of shaping meatballs or grab a rounded bottom tablespoon measure and scoop out the meat mixture. Using a second spoon (a regular spoon from your cutlery set is fine), scoop out the meat from the tablespoon by going around the inside curve of the measuring spoon. You should now have a mostly round ball on your spoon. To round it more you can pass it back to the tablespoon and use the curve of the spoon to gently pat the top of the ball into place. Pass it back once more and drop it into the hot oil.
  3. WorkIng in small batches, brown 4-6 balls at a time. Turn them gently in the oil so they have a nice golden crust on each. Each batch should take 4-6 minutes. When done remove them to a plate lined with a paper towel to rest until the sauce is made.
  4. Preheat oven to 350°F
  5. In the same pot the meatballs cooked in, mix together all the ingredients for the sauce making sure to scrape up the bits on the bottom of the pot into the sauce. Let the sauce simmer on medium-low for 5-10 minutes. Gently place all the meatballs into the sauce and spoon sauce over their tops if they aren't submerged.
  6. Cover the pot and place on a middle rack in the oven. Let cook covered for 10 min. Remove the lid and let it cook another 10 minutes uncovered.
Notes
*A fun tip on how to taste if your meat mixture is seasoned well: break off a very little piece and toss it into the pan to cook. Taste it and then adjust your seasoning if needed!