On Sunday night my fabulous Cooking Club convened for a comforting evening of Jewish cuisine, and I made my beloved matzoh ball soup. Beloved because
a) I render the schmaltz (chicken fat) myself; the purity of chickeny flavor that results is the best I've tasted. I think Canter's, Jerry's and all the other Jewish faux-deli's in L.A. use margarine in their sodden, salty lumps. Wretched. The other reason my matzoh balls are beloved is
b) they remind me of these German dumplings my Pop-Pop (grandfather) made for soup when I was small. Elaborate discussions always followed the meal on how heavy or light they were that day: was it his gentle blending that made them so buoyant? Was it the humidity that made them doughy rocks? (Surely it couldn't have been his cooking, oh no.) My matzoh balls achieve the same feathery lightness his best efforts produced; when I eat them I swear Pop-Pop is next to me, nodding in admiration despite himself.
The Cooking Club has been one of the best parts of my year. Every month or so a group of foodies as insanely into eating as I am gathers at our friends Susan and Wylie's place to put our best fork forward for a different cuisine. We started with a Spanish noche of paella, divine despite its blanket of peas, and have chopped, stirred, nibbled and baked our way through Persian, Italian (you know the pasta was homemade), Indian, Vietnamese (God's food), Carribbean, White Trash BBQ (I cannot deny my heritage), a Brunch when we were tired, and Jewish food. We've scoured Indian markets, Chinatown grocers, bodegas and Iranian mini-marts in search of authentic ingredients and the best cooking advice.
The passionate opinions in the flurry of e-mails as we decide which dishes will star in the next feast, the intensity in Susan's kitchen as we finish the last bit of prep (I'm forever behind schedule) and the hearty good cheer around the table have produced stellar results, both in my belly and out in the world. We were featured in The Christian Science Monitor and on the Bon Appetit blog (which included a photo of the torso and spring rolls of yours truly). All we need now is a series on Bravo. Hmm, I'll make some calls...
This past feast was especially sweet because two of the ladies announced they are pregnant. We toasted to the tiny members-to-be, then dug into meltingly tender brisket, a sweet and nearly healthy kugel, some Sephardic couscous-stuffed eggplant, and rounded out the meal with Nina's stupendous chocolate-cherry rugelach (thanks, Hashem) and Josh's first attempt at chocolate-dipped macaroons. You'd never guess he was a novice, that one. My matzoh balls compared favorably to several folks' grandmas, high praise, and I thought my belly might pop by the time I rolled home. I left with block of kugel and three more rugelach, score!
In December, we're throwing ourselves a party filled with holiday treats and sparkly drinks to celebrate our excellent year of eating and good cheer. We have plans to compile a cookbook and heck, who knows what's next. Maybe Inuit cuisine? I always wanted to try Polar Bear...