Since too many cooks may very well spoil the broth, the 60 women who gathered at Cindy Gerber’s palatial Fox Chapel home on May 1 were content to watch Susie Fishbein do all the cooking herself.
And, oh yes, they were happy to sample her recipes.
Fishbein, the author of eight “Kosher By Design” cookbooks, was in town as part of a Chabad Fox Chapel Women’s Circle event. The couvert included an autographed copy of Fishbein’s latest cookbook, “Kosher by Design Cooking Coach: Recipes, tips and techniques to make anyone a better cook,” as well as sushi and wine. The proceeds from the evening benefited the Jewish Relief Agency, which provides monthly food distributions to community members in need.
Madeline Lemberg, a junior at the Ellis School, played the grand piano as guests mingled and sipped wine prior to the demonstration.
“I’ve been dreaming about being able to bring Susie out to Fox Chapel for a long time,” said Chabad Fox Chapel’s co-director, Shternie Rosenfeld. “Indeed, she was booked about eight months ago, with the committee diligently working on preparations for the past three months.
The teacher-turned-author said that she’s been on a continual book tour since her first cookbook was released 10 years ago; she has sold more than 450,000 copies of her books worldwide.
“Just about every single week, I am doing cooking demos that promote and enhance my brand,” Fishbein said, “and puts me face to face with the audience.”
Fishbein estimates she’s been on hundreds of book tours, though she said that she tries to keep some of them close to her home in Livingston, N.J., so that she can be home with her family.
The focus in Fox Chapel was a tutorial to help home cooks improve their culinary skills. Fishbein, who has a master’s degree in science and was a public school teacher, said that she is not a professionally trained cook and assured the audience, “Everything I can do in the kitchen, you can do in the kitchen.”
Her goal was to free people from following recipes to the letter (which, she joked, is “bad for business”), but rather rely on some tried and true techniques that will work in every situation.
For example, she said that a chuck or shoulder roast should always be covered and slow cooked for three hours in some kind of liquid; the ingredients don’t matter as long as the technique is correct.
Another tip was to roast vegetables using a jellyroll pan, cut the vegetables all the same size so that they will cook evenly, and roast them at a high temperature using two to three cookie sheets covered with parchment paper.
Cooking tomatoes? Don’t use aluminum.
Use disposable gloves when handling raw meat.
Have a cake that sticks to the pan? Cut it up and put it in martini glasses. “Martini glasses are the answer to many culinary dilemmas,” she said.
Fishbein demonstrated three dishes, which the attendees willingly sampled: creamy chummos (hummus) with steeped tomatoes, Thai beef in cucumber cups and chicken lollipops on a bed of spaghetti squash.
The chicken lollipops were breaded with Panko crumbs, thyme, flour and parsley and dipped in eggs, and the dipping sauce included mayonnaise, curry powder and turmeric. The chummos included both garbonzo and white beans with added ingredients of tahini, garlic, lemons, soy, two types of pepper, sea salt and extra-virgin olive oil. And the Thai beef cups had been marinated in ginger, sesame oil, reduced sodium soy sauce, and light brown sugar.
The guests topped off their meals with a peach and berry crisp, pistachio cranberry biscotti and sorbet ruffles. Some committee members, including Valerie Wecht, came to Gerber’s home earlier in the day to help Fishbein with advance preparations and to bake some desserts from her books.
“Food is a connector; it bonds us,” Rosenfeld said. “And we, as Jewish women, we dole it out. It’s the way we nourish our families. But food feeds the intellect, our spiritual selves, our souls.”
(Hilary Daninhirsch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)