The Raging Skillet, From Microwave to Top Caterer
Oprah. Cher. Madonna. Rossi. One of those names may not immediately conjure up a powerful, take-no-prisoners woman, but as the owner of The Raging Skillet catering company, Chef Rossi has earned her mononym nonetheless. She shares her wild rise to award-winning caterer in her memoir with recipes, appropriately titled The Raging Skillet: The True Life Story of Chef Rossi.
Chef Rossi has a vivacious and unapologetic personality that gives life to her almost unbelievable anecdotes, from rebellious, runaway teenager, to a short-lived stint in Lubavitch Brooklyn (“Feminism was not popular in shul,” she writes) to maritime bartender, to her eventual success as an “anti-caterer.” Chef Rossi’s favorite career moment? Catering the celebrity-packed Vagina Monologues after-party. Complete with an anatomically correct feast including a giant vagina-shaped fruit platter.
With gritty New York as a backdrop, the reader is taken from tearful moments of death, to laugh out loud moments of the lunacy of a kitchen. And thrown in are some great stories of Chef Rossi coming into her own. Chef Rossi paints the many characters in her life vividly, with a perfect mix of humor and heart. And she includes plenty of yiddishkeit, with chapter titles like “Pesach on the Interstate,” “Ross by Way of Goldstein” and “Rabbis and Mozzarella.”
Anyone who has worked in a professional kitchen (or dreamed about it) will love the frantic kitchen scenes. And anyone with a crazy Jewish mother will commiserate with Chef Rossi’s relationship with her mom, Harriet. If you are looking for haute cuisine recipes, you may be disappointed. Unless you consider Hebrew National and pasta to be the height of fine dining. But if you want to make white trash pizza bagels with a coffee cup as a measuring device, Chef Rossi has you covered. Here, I’m sharing Leftover Entenmann’s Cake with Pudding; Harriet’s Turkey and Rice Meatballs; and Mama Harriet’s Hungarian Goulash.
So what to do with all the cake your mother never ate because she was too busy trying to stab your lover? This dessert is ridiculously sweet and messy and fun, just as life should be!
1 leftover Entenmann’s cake (coffee cake, lemon cake, pound cake, any white cake)
1 prepared package of any kind of pudding (I like banana Jell-O pudding)
1 coffee cup of heavy cream, whipped
1 handful of maraschino cherries
1 handful of chocolate chips
Slice leftover cake into bread-like slices and lay them in a baking dish. Make any kind of pudding that helps you bounce back from mom rage—vanilla, chocolate, banana, strawberry, whatever it takes—and chill well. Whip up some cream; you’ll want enough to cover your sliced cake.
Fold about half the whipped cream into the pudding, and spread the mixture over your sliced cake. Top it with the rest of the whipped cream, and top that with almost anything—candies or nuts, maraschino cherries, chocolate chips, bits of stiletto heels left behind in the escape—and chill.
There were a few things Mom was still willing to cook even after she discovered the microwave. One was her turkey and rice meatballs. I think it’s because she wanted to eat them as much as we did.
Having discovered that I was allergic to wheat in my adult years, I’ve come to feel super appreciative of bread-crumbless meatballs.
As a chef and a caterer, I naturally have tried to improve on Mom’s recipe by making my own tomato sauce, by browning the turkey balls before I boiled them, by mixing in turkey sausage, but in the end I always come back to Mom’s way, store-bought marinara sauce and all.
2 pounds of ground turkey
3 coffee cups of cooked white rice
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
2 beaten eggs
2, 16-ounce jars of tomato sauce (Mom liked Ragu)
Start out with two pounds of ground turkey, ’cause you want to make enough for a crowd. Then invite me over please!
Meanwhile, prepare about a coffee cup and a half of uncooked white rice however you like to cook it, so long as it’s plain and simple.
Mix your turkey and your cooked white rice with a pinch of paprika, two pinches of dry oregano, 2 pinches of garlic powder, and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Mix in two beaten eggs and mix the whole shebang well. Then form into balls. Pour a good amount of tomato sauce, let’s say two 16-ounce jars, in a deep pot and bring to a boil. Add your balls and reduce to a simmer. Then cover the pot and cook until your meat is totally cooked through. About half an hour or so should do it. If the meatballs are not submerged in sauce, add a few shots of water or a little more sauce until they are.
Mom served these over spaghetti, but they are killer as is. My favorite way to eat Mom’s turkey balls was cold out of the fridge the next day.
2 pounds of cubed stew meat
1 drizzle of olive oil or vegetable oil
A few good pinches each of salt, fresh ground black pepper, dry oregano and paprika
2 heaping handfuls of sliced or diced white onions
1, 8-ounce can of tomato sauce, any variety
1 plop of minced garlic
1 good pinch of celery salt
2 handfuls of peeled carrots, sliced or diced
Water enough to keep things wet—2 coffee cups should do it
1, 16-ounce package egg noodles (Mom’s way) or 2 coffee cups of cut-up potatoes, any kind
Start out with a couple of pounds of cheap cubed meat, ’cause anything pricey is just a shame, darlings.
Get a heavy-bottom pot hot and drizzle with a little olive or vegetable oil. Season the meat well with salt, pepper, dry oregano and paprika, then brown it in the pot. I like to sauté my onions in a separate pot and throw them into the browning meat, but I’m pretty sure you could just cook them together if you only have one pot or feel lazy. You’ll want two heaping handfuls of sautéed onions. When your meat and onions look nice and brown, almost burnt, pour in a can of tomato sauce, a coffee cup of water, a plop of minced garlic, a good pinch of celery salt, and two handfuls of carrots. Reduce to a simmer and cover. Now cook for an eternity, a good two hours, two and a half is even better. You’ll probably need to add water and stir every half hour.
If you want potatoes, throw them in for the last half-hour of cooking, or do as Mama Harriet did and spoon the meat and vegetables over boiled Jewish-style egg noodles.