seder plate 88.
(photo credit: )
This is it - the last round of shopping. Maybe this morning, maybe tomorrow night, maybe Sunday morning, you're going to descend on the supermarket, along with millions of other Pessah preparers, and stock up on the supplies you need to cook for the boatload of people set to show up on your doorstep come Monday night.
And man, do you need help! When it comes to cooking for relatives (or other hard to please guests), there are two dominant approaches. One host serves up what s/he wants and/or likes - and heaven help the cousin or uncle who dares criticize or refuses a second helping. These hosts are sure of themselves, their tastes and their cooking skills, and if the Seder you'll be attending takes place in such a household - well, maybe you'll want to "pre-eat" just in case the cooking isn't up to your standards, because if you don't like what they're serving up, tough luck.
But we all know that the vast majority of hosts and hostesses are not such tough cookies. When you have guests, especially for significant family-oriented events like the Seder, you want everyone to have a nice time, enjoy themselves, and eat - eat well. Which makes you a cook who cares - which is nice, but now requires that you actually take into consideration what you make for the crowd. An once you start caring, you have to make stuff people want to eat - and now you've got a problem.
If only you were the strong, silent type of cook - the kind that expects his/her guests to eat what's on their plate, and like it. But few of us can get away with that kind of thing; most of us will rack our brains coming up with a menu that we hope will wow the guests. And that means hours spent in front of cookbooks or perusing magazines, searching for that new, different and - hopefully - not too difficult dish that, when you present it, will make everyone's eyes light up, and keep your leftover level at a minimum, thanks to the second and third helpings everyone takes.
Ask anyone who's done it - menu planning is a major hassle. You'd think a computer would be helpful here. if only to expose you to different recipes that you haven't tried or seen before. There are, of course, tens of thousands - maybe millions - of recipe sites, blogs, databases and so on out there. For Jewish cooking, one of the premier sites is the Jewish Cooking Archive (http://www.jewish-food.org/), with thousands of recipes gathered over more than a decade for any and every occasion, including, of course, Pessah. Another excellent (if more commercial) site is at http://www.jewishrecipes.org/, and the archives of the rec.food.jewish.cuisine newsgroup (http://www.cyber-kitchen.com/rfcj/) is another great resource.
On these three sites, you'll find tens of thousands of recipes, including many for Pessah. Each site is searchable by ingredient, meal (breakfast, etc.), cuisine type (Sephardic, Greek, international, etc.) or dish category (kugel, vegetables, etc.). The only advantages an old-school print cookbook has over these sites are the pictures of how the dish you're cooking is supposed to look, photographed by the "food stylist" who was consulted on the cookbook - and which, no matter how hard we try, our rendition of the dish will never look like. Plus, all these sites and recipes are free!
But with all the computing brainpower in modern PCs, it's a bit shocking that the computer's contribution to better eating pretty much stops at aggregating recipes. There are plenty of recipe software programs out there, but all of them seem more work than they're worth; if you're going to start typing ingredients and numbers into the program to compute what and how much you need to buy on your shopping list, it just seems easier to use a cookbook or copy the recipe off the Internet - onto a piece of paper, using a pen or a pencil.
Unfortunately, all the recipe programs I've ever come across require a great deal of manual interaction to get any use out of them. Nearly all, that is - except for Accuchef (http://www.accuchef.com/), the computer cooking program that's as easy to use as clicking your mouse. The great advantage of Accuchef is in the way it imports recipes into your database; using a very clever wizard, the program lets you copy a recipe off a Web site and winnow out the data you need automatically, assigning the recipe name, ingredients and cooking instructions to the appropriate boxes in your recipe. Once the data are in there, you can generate a shopping list based on your menu choices, add a photo to the recipe, recalculate the amount you have to buy, even assign a supermarket aisle to each ingredient and print out your shopping list with items classified by aisle. Between Accuchef and the treasure trove of Jewish cooking recipes on-line, your guests are guaranteed to have very little to complain about - and yes, even curmudgeonly old Nana Bessie will be happy.