There is nothing like a beautiful simcha to make the winter warm and wonderful. We live for these celebrations. No matter the weather, the freezing temperatures, the snow and ice, we make them work.
Making a beautiful simcha dinner for a crowd is not difficult. I have done a Shabbat dinner for 35 and brunches for the same several times. No matter the number of guests or the menu, with some planning, some help from family, some good friends, and some extra freezer space, we can make any home made simcha a success.
My wonderful daughter decided that she wanted a winter wedding for many reasons — most importantly, all the vendors would be less expensive in February. She loved the idea of a winter wonderland, and the wedding could be on Saturday night without a late start time.
So we planned. I made a brunch for the bridesmaids and new in-laws. Three weeks in advance, I froze and cooked and froze some more. Then I thawed and reheated and cooked some more. Some local culinary students from a nearby college helped serve, and over 50 guests ate well. We had a wonderful time. First event, a true success.
Then came February. I began to watch the weather like a hawk. Why? Because my treasured daughter was getting married on February 15, 2015. Remember that winter? The most snow — most blizzards — in the history of Massachusetts!
As the 15th approached, more bad weather was on its way. Still, we did not let a huge blizzard on February 14th get in the way. That night, the rehearsal dinner for 125 was family-catered by in-laws, family and friends. Several of my daughter’s local friends and I made about 2 dozen pies, the favorite dessert of the bride and groom. We ate, we sang, and we left at 11 in the midst of yet another raging storm. I was petrified! Can you postpone a wedding?
The next day, despite two feet of snow, the sun was blazing, the snow sparkled and the wedding went off without any problems. The few empty seats for out-of-town guests who could not get here were filled by local friends who were happy to celebrate with us.
So, should snow and the cold arrive, know that you can make anything work with some ingenuity, imagination, a little luck, and lots of love. After all, that’s what a simcha is about!
PS. Don’t be afraid to cook for your own simcha. Choose favorite recipes, make, freeze and enjoy!
Super Simple Eggplant Parmesan for a Crowd (Dairy)
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil (more if needed)
2 to 3 lbs. shredded mozzarella cheese
1 to 2 lbs. grated Parmesan cheese
4 to 5 large jars (32 to 40 ounces) of your favorite marinara sauce
4 Tbsp. finely minced garlic
Other Italian seasonings to taste, such as oregano, rosemary, basil red pepper flakes
Peel and thinly slice the eggplants crosswise, about 1/3-inch thick slices. Place in a large bowl and sprinkle liberally with kosher salt. Set aside for 15 minutes, tossing the eggplant to evenly coat with the salt several times.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line three large rimmed baking dishes with aluminum foil. Place a piece of parchment on each pan.
Rinse the eggplant thoroughly and place on paper towels to dry, turning once.
Meanwhile, brush the parchment liberally with olive oil. Place the eggplant slices on the parchment, crowding them as needed. Brush the top side with oil and place in the oven. Roast until softened and golden, about 15 to 20 minutes. Rotate the pans once to ensure even roasting. Remove from the oven and let cool.
Pour about 2 cups of sauce in the bottom of a 3-quart oblong casserole dish or a disposable half steam table pan. Drizzle with about 1 Tbsp. of olive oil and sprinkle with about 1 tsp. of garlic and any other spices and herbs you may like. Place a lightly overlapping layer of eggplant over the sauce, sprinkle generously with mozzarella cheese and then a thin layer of Parmesan cheese, add more sauce, more garlic, spices and herbs, and another layer of eggplant. Press down gently with the back of a large spoon or a spatula. Continue layering until the pan is about 3/4 full. End with a generous layer of mozzarella cheese.
Place in the oven and cook for 30 minutes, until bubbly and the cheese is melted. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with grated Parmesan and return to the oven for 5 to 10 minutes, until melted. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving. Each pan serves 6 to 10. Make enough for about 4 pans.
Can be wrapped tightly in foil and frozen for a week or so. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and then cook covered with a sprinkle of fresh Parmesan at the end.
Baby Field Greens with Goat Cheese and Toasted Walnuts (Pareve)
25 cups mixed field greens
4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
2 cups shredded carrots
1 lb. sliced mushrooms
2 cups dried cranberries
1-1/2 lb. herbed or plain goat cheese, crumbled or crumbled feta cheese
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast them in the oven for about 5 to 7 minutes, until they are fragrant. Check them at 5 minutes to prevent burning. Allow to cool.
Toss the field greens with the carrots and add the mushrooms and cranberries. Toss gently. Top with crumbled cheese and nuts and toss gently. Add croutons, if you like. Serves 25.
Lemony Italian Vinaigrette (pareve)
3 cups extra virgin olive oil
1-1/4 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup finely minced shallots
3 Tbsp. (scant) Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. finely grated lemon zest
1 to 2 Tbsp. sugar (or to taste)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Place all ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake well to emulsify. Either dress the salad before serving or serve in a gravy boat or in a bowl with a small ladle. Makes about 5 cups. Can be made 3 to 5 days in advance.
Herbed Butter (dairy)
3 sticks salted butter at room temperature
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/2 cup fresh parsley, finely minced
1 tsp. tarragon, minced
1/2 tsp. freshly cracked mixed peppercorns (black, green, red, white)
1/3 cup snipped chives
1 tsp. Grated fresh onion or 2 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
Mix all ingredients together with a whisk or with an electric mixer. Scrape into two or three small bowls or shape into a log, wrap tightly and refrigerate.
Can be made 3 to 5 days in advance or wrapped in several layers and frozen for several weeks.