Surely by now you have noticed that I absolutely adore cookbooks. With their intriguing ideas that just beg to be tried, they inspire me to think creatively and, more importantly, they keep me from getting bored of serving the same meals over and over again. It’s funny how I can make the same recipes year after year and never get tired of them, while other recipes seem to cycle in and out of favor, leaving me looking for new family favorites.
Getting my hands on two cookbooks from Toronto’s Netivot HaTorah Day School, one old and one new, could add a whole lot to my culinary repertoire. The first, Gatherings, is that rare breed: a cookbook that is 12 years old and has few pictures, but whose recipes beckon enticingly over a decade later. The second, dubbed Gathered Around the Table, is a wonderful follow-up, laden with a fabulous selection of recipes, some traditional and some with a more modern flair, liberally interspersed with tempting full-color pictures now mandatory in all kosher cookbooks. Both books place an emphasis on creativity, finding new and exciting ways to tempt the palate, and will have you making a beeline for your kitchen and pulling out your mixing bowls (or emailing a talented friend or relative and begging him or her to make a particularly tempting recipe for you).
It didn’t take me more than 30 seconds to fall in love with Gatherings and to understand why 25,000 copies of this volume have been printed in four separate runs. The very first recipe, salmon skewers with pasta, features ketchup-marinated salmon, minced garlic, maple syrup, orange juice, soy sauce, sesame oil and chili powder, and seems so very today, even though it was published years ago. Just a page later, a recipe for sushi pizza, topped with avocado, nori and cucumbers, calls my name and less than 48 hours later it took its place on my Shabbos table. Avocado pita melts sounds like a great choice for a light supper, featuring pita wedges topped with avocado, scallions, lime juice, mayonnaise, garlic, hot sauce, tomato, alfalfa and shredded cheese. I found it hard to leaf through Gatherings without getting ravenous – and that was after looking through just the appetizer section.
There are plenty more items that will find their way onto my “must make list.” Baby spinach salad with Asian dressing? Yum. Chicken salad with basil and sun-dried tomatoes? Double yum. I admit that I actually contemplated making the mango vinaigrette at 12:26 AM because it just sounded so delicious.
While the selections in the Dairy, Brunch and Breads, Fish, Chicken, Meat, Side Dishes and Vegetable sections all looked amazing, I couldn’t help but be drawn to the desserts, which didn’t disappoint. An Israeli tiramisu uses tea biscuits in place of lady fingers, making a truly phenomenal dessert much easier to make. Fried bananas, tossed with cinnamon sugar, sounds amazing and earned special mention in my Pesach folder for a fun and easy 2016 dessert. Cookie crunch bark, made with just chocolate chips and crushed Oreos, were too good to resist and I made them just one day later. They were both incredibly delicious and insanely easy, making them a great choice for next time I want to send something yummy and pretty to a friend’s simcha.
It is equally hard to resist a cookbook like Gathered Around the Table, which features 200 recipes and over 100 full-color photographs. Divided into 12 distinct sections, including a dedicated Grill & BBQ category, it runs the gamut, with dishes that run from simple and delicious to complicated and outstanding. Mexican lasagna, a fun twist on the Italian classic, substituting tortillas for noodles and salsa for tomato sauce, is loaded with beans, eggs, sour cream and cheddar cheese. Blintz in a bowl is a dairy show stopper, with ruffled cheese-stuffed crepes tucked into ramekins and served with maple or raspberry syrups. Yogurt parfait with homemade granola is an easy-to-prepare version of the same great-looking product you would find in the grab-and-go section of your local kosher supermarket, but at a fraction of the price.