Cookbook Review
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‘Sunday Suppers’ + Inspired Gatherings

Sunday Suppers | Recipes + Gatherings — a cookbook from Karen Mordechai

The first time I brought a stranger home to dinner my parents didn’t bat an eye. Mom grew up with all sorts of “extras” in and out of the house, and we were raised to provide where and when there was a need. So, we’d scoot on down and make room for another plate.

I won’t lie, this habit led to many interesting suppers, particularly at the holidays. One elderly woman I brought to Thanksgiving referred to me as “angel girl” and regaled us with her recent exploits with a taxi driver. (She followed this up by hitting extravagantly on my father. I’m sure the wine didn’t help.)

Others became less like strangers and more like family, even to the point of referring to my mother as “Mom.” I’ve drifted apart from some of these adopted family members — my “angel girl” lady passed away — but we continue to hold them dear, and Mom often regrets she’s not able to lay a place for them at Christmas or fill that extra stocking. Our meals pulled everyone together, and I love that a shared table has that sort of power.

My initial dive into Sunday Suppers left me feeling a little on the “outside” of things. All of the beauty and poetry happening on the pages of Karen Mordechai’s book make it clear she is a very capable food stylist and photographer. The owner of Brooklyn’s Sunday Suppers — an open kitchen community and blog — plus the creator of the ingredient line ILĀ, Mordechai’s book is complete with musings on each gathering’s experience and directions for table setting. For the layman, it can feel rather intimidating.

Mordechai writes that her meals are meant as a jumping off point. But as I cooked, I found the recipes a little less flexible than I would have liked. I believe her aim was to inspire the reader to add those tender touches to a dish that communicate intention in the moment. But without suggestions or notes like “what else works here,” I felt frustrated that there wasn’t more “ease” in the effortless look of her meals.

Nevertheless, I dug in my heels. The true test of a cookbook is to give it the opportunity to speak for itself, and Mordechai’s encouragement to make a meal special, inviting others we know and don’t to join, struck a chord.

I decided to cook “A Packed Meal,” which she suggests to eat as a picnic out in “your own patch of woods.”

“Take a moment,” Mordechai writes, “It will surely be worth the preparations.”

This menu consists of beet pickled eggs, buttermilk fried chicken, potato tart with black olives, chopped kale salad with green dressing and crema, mulled wine and apple cider cakes. (You can add fresh fruit if you happen to pass a farmer’s stand en route to your foresty adventure.)

Want a recipe from ‘Sunday Suppers | Recipes + Gatherings’? Here’s a lovely one over on the ‘Almost Satisfied’ blogHere’s another, and more not included in the book, on the ‘Sunday Suppers’ blog.

All of the above were delicious, and indeed I was thankful for the effort in my preparations. Only the apple cider cakes turned out unlike the photo. The recipe makes 17 and is designed to be baked in mini bunt pans — of which I and the friends I asked own none — so perhaps my muffin tin didn’t quite distribute the heat as intended. The dough had a lot of liquid in it, and separated into two layers, leading me to question the recipe’s ratio of wet to dry. Still, I was glad to eat several of them as she suggests, with a warm cup of mulled wine.

Each recipe has a tiny detail or two that makes it unique and special. Something to give a sense of what she calls “whimsy” about the meal. “I hope to bring a bit of joy and inspiration to you,” Mordechai writes, “to offer ideas while simultaneously imparting a sense of freedom to break the rules a bit and just do what feels right and beautiful to your eye.”

Although we didn’t hunt down a patch of woods to dine in, this meal did bring us joy. It was lovely to make a meal that brought on a true feeling of gathering. Sunday Suppers is a beautiful book, more lifestyle than cookbook, and despite being unsure of how well-tested some recipes are for the home kitchen, I am encouraged by Mordechai to try a meal of this sort again. I’ll invite several friends and strangers, and get my place settings at the dollar store to “break the rules a bit.” After all that effort in the kitchen, having to not do the dishes after feels just right.

Who should buy this: An attractive host or hostess gift for that person who’s invited you to dine. A good cookbook for fans of Kinfolk magazine and the Sunday Suppers blog.

Sunday Suppers | Recipes + Gatherings is available now from Clarkson Potter and sold on Amazon.com.

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1 Comment

  1. Pingback: A ‘Sunday’ Kitchen | Edible Shelf

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