Gathering Round the Holiday Table

The High Holidays begin with the first night of Rosh Hashanah, and all its special foods and traditions. Apples are dipped in honey in the hopes of a sweet year ahead. Challahs are coiled into a circle and often contain raisins, symbolizing wishes for a well-rounded, sweet and wholesome year.

The daunting task of preparing festive dishes for your holiday table can be overwhelming, but not as overwhelming as creating a top-quality cookbook packed with triple-tested recipes. Shawna Magence and Carol Lesser were the coordinators for Gatherings: Creative Kosher Cooking from our Families to Yours, ($34.99 Cdn.) a fund-raising project by the parents of Netivot HaTorah Day School in Thornhill, Ontario.

Gatherings is not your usual fund-raising cookbook. It is a top-quality, professionally designed book, with 300 luscious recipes contributed by friends and family of children attending the school. It has a special layflat binding and contains fabulous photos and terrific cooking tips. Since Gatherings was published last October, over $100,000 has been raised as a result of a lot of hard work, dedication and passion.

I spoke with Shawna Magence, one of the driving forces behind Gatherings, and asked her for some of her strategies when preparing for her own holiday table. Shawna is incredibly organized – she has to be. A busy mom with four children, she works two days a week managing a law office, is the president of Emunah and is actively involved with Netivot HaTorah.

She told me that she doesn’t cook at the last minute, but not months in advance either. She serves “not less than 18, because that’s how many fit at my table.” Sometimes she will have a kids’ table. Shawna always sets the table the night before. She likes to prepare recipes that look beautiful, taste incredible and are easy to make. She does all her preparation in advance, so that once she sits down at the table, she can enjoy the meal with her family and friends.

Shawna told me “The recipes in Gatherings are traditional, but with a twist. All the recipes are Kosher, so everyone can eat them, whether they keep Kosher or not. The recipes are easy enough for a novice, yet gourmet enough for the gourmet cook! There are lots of salads that can be served at room temperature and are ideal do-ahead dishes that don’t need to be warmed up.

Pictures in most cookbooks are not always reproducible, but anyone who prepares our recipes can make them look just as gorgeous as the ones in the pictures. The recipe for Three-Coloured Fish Loaf came from an incredible cook who is a grandparent of one of the children in the school. It looks fabulous, is so easy to make and is a wonderful way to get the kids to eat their carrots. The Double Mushroom Chicken is incredible. Most kids will not eat mushrooms, but they don’t know mushrooms are in it. They think it’s made with bread crumbs!”

Gatherings is available both wholesale and retail. To order, please contact Gourmania Inc.

Here are some of Shawna Magence’s suggestions for upcoming gatherings around
your holiday table. Enjoy!


This elegant appetizer looks gourmet but is very easy to prepare and is delicious! Try this terrific serving tip to impress your guests: serve horseradish in carved-out veggies like radishes, cucumber or zucchini.

1 1/2 lbs. frozen fish loaf, defrosted
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. onion powder
pepper to taste
1 (300-g) box chopped spinach, defrosted and drained
3 medium-sized carrots, cooked and mashed

Preheat oven to 350° F.

In a large bowl, combine defrosted fish with egg, sugar, salt, garlic powder, onion powder and pepper. Divide mixture in half. Press one half into a 4 1/2 x 8 1/2-inch loaf pan. Divide remaining mixture in half. Mix spinach with one half of mixture and carrots with the other. Spread the spinach mixture over plain fish in loaf pan. Then spread carrot mixture over the spinach mixture.

Bake uncovered for 1 hour.

Servings: 8 to 10.

Prep time: 20 minutes.


This chicken is superb. Your guests won’t be able to guess what the great topping is made of.

1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. olive oil
6 to 7 mushrooms, sliced
1 tbsp. cornstarch dissolved in 1 cup chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste

2 (3 lb. each) chickens cut into 8ths ( or boneless and skinless chicken breasts or thighs)
1 (1.4 oz.) pkg. porcini mushrooms, dried
1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 1/2 tsp. paprika
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. curry powder (optional)
1 tsp. additional paprika

Preheat oven to 375° F.

In a nonstick saucepan over medium heat, sauté garlic in olive oil. Add mushrooms. Add cornstarch-chicken broth mixture, salt and pepper and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Set aside.

Rinse chicken pieces. Pat dry. Set aside on parchment paper placed in a large pan.

Lightly run cold water through porcini mushrooms and drain well. Place them on paper towels and pat until absolutely dry. (Air-dry for a while.) Cut any large pieces by hand. Put them in a food processor. Process well. Add bread crumbs. Process until mixture becomes crumb-like.

Combine mayonnaise, mustard, 1 1/2 tsp. paprika and curry powder. Coat chicken pieces, returning the coated pieces to the pan. Sprinkle with mushroom crumbs and additional paprika to give colour.

Place chicken, uncovered, in oven. After 20 to 25 minutes, baste with half the mushroom sauce. After another 30 minutes add remaining sauce. Do not overcook chicken. Depending on the size of the chicken pieces, chicken should be cooked for about an hour and then checked.

Servings: 10 to 12. To reheat, cover pan with foil.

Prep time: 25 to 30 minutes.


This is a wonderful recipe for the upcoming High Holidays, especially for Sukkot. It can be served as a dessert and also makes a great side dish for those who are allergic to eggs. You can substitute chocolate chips for the pecans, or just add them to the recipe. It can also be served as a muffin if you prepare it in muffin tins.

3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cloves
1 cup oil
1 (16-oz.) can pumpkin puree
1 cup pecans, chopped

Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease 5 mini loaf pans (5 3/4 x 3 1/4 inches).

In a large mixing bowl, using an electric or hand-held mixer, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt and cloves. Add oil and pumpkin puree. Mix until smooth. Stir in pecans.

Pour batter into greased loaf pans. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes.

Please visit Norene’s cookbook review of Gatherings