Nancy Solomon’s Entertaining Suggestions
Written By Maayan Jaffe
Nancy Solomon grew up around food. A native of Philadelphia, she says her mother is an amazing cook. “She still puts together meals that astound me.”
Yet, Solomon never saw herself as a chef. In fact, while she loves food, she admits, “I am not adventurous in the kitchen and I don’t think about cooking too much.”
But when it comes to entertaining her pediatrician-husband’s residents and students, Solomon finds her way around the stove and oven. Married for nine years to Barry Solomon, director of the Harriet Lane Clinic at the Johns Hopkins Children Center, and a professor at the Hopkins Medical School, Solomon quickly became accustomed to last-minute entertaining.
“My husband likes to have his students over several times a year,” the part-time self-employed speech and language pathologist says with a smile. “We come up with a date; I just don’t know how many people are coming. It could start out as eight, but the day before — or even the day of — eight could become 18.”
Sometimes, explains Solomon, her husband will call and say things like, “I didn’t know this one was bringing his spouse” or “I think this one has kids.” Sometimes, he does not even know or forgets to call. Solomon has to be prepared.
The secret: simple foods that are delicious.
Solomon says she generally serves brunch, which means a lot of the traditional Jewish foods and dressings. She’ll purchase bagels and cream cheese, and then prepare trays of veggies to dress the sandwiches. She’ll also add some hot touches — a blintz souffle with warm fruits on the side, for example. She’ll serve homemade sweets and fresh fruit.
For dinner parties, Solomon will grill chicken and add a big salad, pasta and fixings.
“I keep things plain and then people can add to them,” Solomon explains. “I am very sensitive to allergies and diet restrictions.”
As a rule, Solomon doesn’t dress the salads, but puts the dressing on the side, just in case. She stays away from nuts — or anything that could be a choking hazard in case children show up. And she also protects her abode.
“Nothing red!” says Solomon. “I don’t serve beets, nothing in tomato sauce. The guests could sit anywhere in the house and I want them to feel comfortable to do that, but I don’t want it on my carpet.”
Most years, it’s gone quite well. One year, the grill caught on fire and people were scraping the black from the chicken and meat. “They bought my husband a fire extinguisher as a gift after that,” she chuckles.
So that food never runs out, she’ll store bags of M&Ms and other chocolates in her pantry and make sure candy bowls always are full. She pre-bakes and freezes cupcakes in case she runs out of the intended dessert. She also buys tubs of muffins, extra bread, and prepares Ziploc bags of fresh veggies to be dipped in hummus. These can serve as fillers, “that show up if the other food is running low.”
(mushroom, spinach optional)
1/3 stick butter
1/4 finely chopped shallots
10 slices bread
2 1/2 cups shredded Swiss cheese
Mushrooms or spinach, optional
9 eggs, lightly beaten
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
3 cups milk
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1. Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease a 13x9x2-inch baking dish or shallow 11⁄2-quart casserole.
2. Melt butter in skillet. Sauté shallots.
3. Remove crusts from bread and cut into cubes. Mix bread, shallots, cheese and vegetables, if using, in bowl. Pour into a ziplock bag.
4. Mix the eggs, mustard and milk. Add thyme and season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour the egg mixture into the bag and seal, carefully squeezing out excess air. For safety, slide this bag, zipper-end first, into a second ziplock bag and seal. Refrigerate overnight.
5. An hour before serving, spread the mixture evenly in baking dish. Cover with lid or foil and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake another 30 minutes. May be refrigerated or frozen.
For a large group, make two different stratas the night before and put in the oven an hour before.
Homemade Granola Bars
2 cups old fashioned oatmeal
1 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup toasted wheat germ (watch carefully, it will burn quickly after a few minutes)
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
2/3 cup honey
1/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup dried apricots
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup mini chocolate chips
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8 x 12-inch baking dish and line it with parchment paper.
2. Toss the oatmeal and almonds on a sheet pan and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl and stir in the wheat germ. Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees.
3. Place the butter, honey, brown sugar, vanilla and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook and stir for a minute, then pour over the toasted oatmeal mixture. Add the dried fruit and stir well.
4. Pour 1/2 mixture into prepared pan. Cool slightly, add chips to remaining mixture. Stir. Place in pan. Wet fingers and lightly press the mixture evenly into the pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until light golden brown. Cool for at least 2 to 3 hours before cutting. Serve at room temperature.