Welcoming Shabbat in the Heart of the House



Perhaps because cooking is my business, I planned for a kitchen where large numbers of people could gather in comfort. That's because it's been my experience that no matter how my husband and I have herded our guests into the living and dining rooms, they somehow make their way back into our kitchen — because they enjoy hanging out there.

Having a Shabbat dinner in the kitchen is a homey way to end the week. But it shouldn't be a formal affair. Rather, it should be about good friends coming together to share a traditional welcoming of the upcoming day of rest.

Here are a few tips to ensure the evening is a success.

When inviting your guests, let them know that this is an informal meal in the kitchen and encourage them to participate. But leave only the simplest tasks for them to perform, such as tossing the salad or pouring the wine.

One-dish meals, like hearty soups or stews, are great for this kind of get-together because they can be made ahead of time.

If you don't have a table in your kitchen, place some stools along the counter or arrange a few chairs around the island.

After dinner, move into the living or dining room for coffee, dessert and a change of scene.

This is a menu I like to serve for such occasions. It begins with a tangy salad of oranges, greens and red onion. A main dish of Cornish hens, Sephardi-style, can be kept in the oven until you're ready to serve it, accompanied by already prepared rice or couscous.

For the finale, the sophisticated coffee-flavored cake tops things off perfectly.


Cornish Hens With Dates


  • 4 cornish hens, cut into quarters or halves 
    salt and freshly ground black pepper 
    1/3 cup olive oil 
    3 large onions, peeled and chopped 
    1 Tbsp. tomato paste 
    1 tsp. saffron 
    1 tsp. turmeric 
    2 tsps. ground cumin 
    1 Tbsp. cinnamon 
    1/2 tsp. nutmeg 
    2 Tbsps. honey 
    3 cups chicken stock 
    1 lb. pitted dates, halved lengthwise 
    juice of 2 lemons

Season the hens with salt and a generous amount of pepper.

Heat the oil in a large skillet, add the hens in batches, then brown on all sides over high heat. Remove and set aside.

Add the onions to the skillet and cook over medium heat until soft, about 10 minutes.

Add the tomato paste, spices, honey and stock, and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat and return the chicken to the skillet. Cover and simmer for 25 minutes, or until the hens are cooked.

Skim the chicken fat from the surface. Add the dates and lemon. Cook the mixture for another 5 to 10 minutes.

Serve the hens with some of the dates and sauce.

Serves 8.


Watercress, Orange and Red-Onion Salad


  • 3 bunches watercress, stemmed 
    3 oranges, peel and pith removed, halved lengthwise and sliced crosswise 
    1 small red onion, thinly sliced 
    2 Tbsps. sherry wine vinegar 
    6 Tbsps. olive oil 
    1/2 tsp. dried marjoram 
    1/2 cup toasted pine nuts

In a large bowl, combine the watercress, oranges and onion.

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, oil and marjoram until well-blended.

Toss with the salad.

Taste for salt and pepper, and sprinkle with the pine nuts.

Serves 6 to 8.


Cappuccino Chocolate Cake


  • 11/2 sticks pareve margarine 
    41/2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped 
    1 Tbsp. instant espresso powder or 2 Tbsps. instant coffee powder 
    1/2 tsp. cinnamon 
    11/2 cups sugar 
    3 eggs 
    3/4 cup flour 
    3 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped 
    1/2 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts 
    powdered sugar 
    fresh berries

Preheat oven to 350°.

Grease and flour a 9-inch round baking pan.

Put the margarine, unsweetened chocolate, espresso powder and cinnamon in a medium saucepan. Stir over low heat until smooth. Cool about 10 minutes.

Whisk in the sugar and eggs. Stir in the flour, then the bittersweet chocolate and hazelnuts.

Pour into the prepared baking pan.

Bake until a tester inserted in the center comes out almost clean, about 30 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

Turn the cake out onto a cutting surface and cut into wedges. Dust with powdered sugar just before serving, and garnish with fresh berries.

Serves 10.

Louise Fiszer is a California cooking teacher and food writer. E-mail:[email protected].


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