By Bonnie Fishman / San Francisco Bay Area
When I was growing up in the ‘50s, our house was always full of people coming and going. We had four girls, three dogs, and Mom and Dad. Plus, next door, our neighbors had three girls and two dogs. It was one seamless residence of girls and dogs. Our parents loved it, though Dad had a way of slipping off to the golf course on Saturday mornings. Every Saturday, my mom’s sisters would come over for coffee, a chat, and lunch and bring a couple of extra girls to add to our already full pack. Many times, you’d find extra bodies asleep between my sister Cindy’s bed and mine. We thought this tumult was normal. This was the tip of the iceberg as to the number of kids who streamed through our doors.
Our backyard abutted the elementary school so just about every kid had to pass our house on their way home. Dad was a perpetual dreamer. He had some wild ideas! One of the best ones was procuring a legit 8-foot stainless steel full-on soda bar, with pumps, scoops, big freezers, the works. He also bought a 4-foot stainless chest to hold the dozens of banana split boats, sundae dishes, and milkshake glasses. Again, I thought this was normal. What kid didn’t want to come over for delicious sundaes after a hard day playing in the schoolyard?! When we grew into our teenage years, Dad installed a basketball hoop in our cemented backyard to accommodate our boyfriends. Mom stocked the cupboards with after school snacks, adding to her array of fresh baked coffee cakes, mandel bread and cookies. The door was never locked and everyone knew it.
Our Fishman family’s hospitality carried into our college years, in the early ‘70s, when two pairs of sisters who are our first cousins shared a Craftsman-style house in Ann Arbor while attending University of Michigan. Our mailbox read: Fishman, Fishman, Fishman & Fishman. No, we weren’t a law firm. Plus we had three dogs (of course we did!). Our Mack Street house was the hub of activity. Anyone passing by at dinner time knew they could pull up a chair and share our meal. On weekends, we often had extra bodies strewn on the couch and living-room rug. It was both familiar and blissful for me.
Chaos was a comforting state of being. Many people might find it nerve-wracking but I thought it was perfect. When our own kids were growing up, needless to say, our house was a hub for playing, shooting hoops, watching ball games, and eating pizza. I would come home from work and see the familiar pile of shoes in the front hall. Invariably, a pair or two remained at our house along with the occasional scarf, sweatshirt, hat, or socks. We actually had a lost-and-found department. Our closest neighbor ended up with a locker to hold all the stuff that he left behind!
Fast forward to the present day: The Hotel California here at the Fishman Family Compound. My two sisters, my brother-in-law, and my husband and I live together in a compound in semirural California. Visitors abound as we are located near San Francisco and anyone passing through might stop by for lunch, dinner, or an overnight stay. We love it! Having been schooled by our mom, who was the quintessential hostess, we do it right. My sister Marcia has a lovely casita where she has welcome gifts for her guests. We always have well-stocked pantries and fridges to cater to our visitors’ diets. Gluten-free? No problem. Don’t eat dairy? Been there done that. Vegetarian? Gotcha covered. My sisters and I are now at the point where we have to coordinate our guest calendars so we don’t double-book! The first night of Hanukkah, we had nine adults, three children, and 11 dogs. The dogs formed a rugby scrum, moving about the front porch and yard in one large pack of activity. It was very entertaining.
One thing Mom often did was make a big pot of something for dinner. Not knowing who was going to drop by, she was prepared to expand the meal to accommodate the extra mouths to feed. We did this at college too. A crowd favorite was Mom’s Beef Stroganoff. Back then, beef was cheap, though not so much now. She could make it ahead. When she reheated it for dinner, she then added fresh dill and sour cream. I prefer to use Greek yogurt, as it’s less rich. I’ve toyed with the idea of using boneless skinless chicken thighs for the stroganoff. Obviously, the recipe won’t cook for as long, maybe only 30 minutes, because chicken is much more tender.
I hope this will be a crowd pleaser for your holiday guests, whether invited or just dropping by. Feel free to expand this recipe to suit your needs. Bon appétit, Insiders!
Boots’ Beef Stroganoff
Yield: 6 servings
1 1/2 lb. top sirloin steak
1/4 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
3-4 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 c. small diced onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
10 oz. mushrooms, sliced
1/4 c. dry Marsala wine or red wine
2 Tbs. catsup
3/4 tsp. thyme
1 1/2 c. beef or chicken stock
1 c. sour cream or Greek yogurt, 5% or full fat
6 Tbs. chopped fresh dill
12 oz. wide egg noodles
Slice the steak in 1/4” x 2” pieces. Mix the flour, salt, and pepper together in a large bowl. Toss the meat in the flour. Heat 3 tablespoons of oil over high in a braiser or Dutch oven. When hot, add only half or one third the beef to the pan, making sure not to overcrowd. Sauté the steak until browned on all sides. Transfer to a clean bowl. Repeat with remaining beef, adding more oil as needed.
Turn heat down to medium. Sauté the onions and garlic until translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add the mushrooms and continue cooking until they begin to brown. Mix in any remaining flour from the dredging bowl. Pour on the wine. Scrap up brown bits from the bottom. Add the catsup, thyme, and stock, continuing to scrape. Return beef to the pan. Bring to a boil. Turn down to simmer, cover, and stir occasionally. Cook about one hour or until the meat is tender.
Turn heat off until 10 minutes before dinner. Cook the egg noodles in salted boiling water for 8 minutes. Drain well. Meanwhile, fold the yogurt and dill into the beef. Reheat over a very low flame or the sauce will curdle. Adjust the seasoning with additional salt and pepper. Place noodles on each plate. Top with stroganoff. Garnish with extra chopped dill if desired.
Bonnie Fishman attended the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London. Later, she owned and operated Bonnie’s Patisserie in Southfield, Mich. and Bonnie’s Kitchen and Catering in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She has taught cooking for over 35 years and created hundreds of recipes. She is now living in Northern California.