Years from now, when our grandchildren reminisce with their grandchildren about their youth, they’ll recall Passover 2020 when a microscopic bug hijacked the holiday. “Those brave enough to go into stores were hoarding,” they’ll say. “Deliveries were delayed or nonexistent, and so many items were out of stock. Then came June. Weddings, graduations, bar mitzvahs, galas and conventions were either postponed, canceled or celebrated virtually on Zoom, Facetime or Skype.”
Orange County caterers are feeling the pinch. “We were on track to have our busiest year ever,” said Trevor Scheftz, who with his mother, Beverly, owns and operates Blueberry Hill, “and then the light switch went off, and it all disappeared. When I think back to the Women’s Voices luncheon at the Hotel Irvine back in March, we had such a busy weekend planned, and I was stressing—how are we going to do it? When Voices canceled, I sent a text to the team that it was a blessing in disguise. They were going to reschedule. Literally the next day everything canceled.”
The Scheftz family, originally from South Africa, has had a long history in the food business. Living in Israel for 40 years, Beverly and her late husband operated gourmet hamburger establishments as well as catering and food service operations. They immigrated to Canada in 1995.
“Somebody from the Irvine Company was visiting Toronto,” Beverly recalled. “We had a gourmet hamburger food concession in a theme park in Ontario, and he found us. He asked us to help open at the Spectrum. Trevor came with his wife and son to open the store and decided after three months that he wasn’t going back to Toronto. They liked California better!”
For the time being Blueberry Hill, which operates a kosher kitchen at the Merage Jewish Community Center in Irvine and a nonkosher kitchen at Signal Hill, has been offering family meals. “We started doing them for 10,” said Scheftz. “Obviously, listening to what people wanted, our minimum order is now for six people, assuming a family of four or five with some extra for the next day.” Family meals can be delivered or picked up at the JCC every day between 1 and 2 p.m. on 24-hour notice. Four or five choices are offered each week, changing every couple of weeks, including Stuffed Chicken Breast, Miso Grilled Salmon, BBQ Beef Ribs and Chicken and Steak Kabobs. See blueberryhillcatering.net or call (562) 981-8300.
Parties by Panache in Brea has been offering its Quarantine Menu during the pandemic, full dinners for two or more, for pickup or delivery.
Owner/chef Hollis O’Brien, who once catered the Obie Awards, has been in the business for over 40 years. “In college I did catering on the side,” she said. “I worked as a research chemist for a few years, but I really liked catering.” In the ‘80s she opened a restaurant in New York. “This was before the farm-to-table movement. We made everything—our own bagels, bread, croissants. When we moved to California in 1986, I said, I’m never going back into the food business again. After a month I decided to keep catering. It’s in my blood.”
In normal times—and was it only a few months ago that times were normal?—Parties by Panache does full event planning, including servers, bar, rentals, flowers, music, invitations and photography. “We use only fresh ingredients and make all our own pastries and breads,” she said. “And we try to be as accommodating as we can. We’re aware of people’s budgets. If they want to use their own centerpieces or just want the food delivered, that’s fine. It’s a seven-day-a-week business. That hasn’t changed. But I couldn’t do it if I didn’t love it.”
But that was then and this is now. “My delivery grocery people are not delivering six days a week like they used to, but we’re trying to keep our employees working,” O’Brien said. “I have had so many events canceled, big events, weddings, bar mitzvahs and congregational Seders.”
The Quarantine Menu features six entrees including Moroccan Chicken with Figs and Dates, Beef Stroganoff or Lasagna (meat or vegetable), with sides, for $29.95 per dinner for two. For an additional charge you may also choose from four salads, including Traditional Caesar and Pear Roquefort, three soups and four desserts. There is even a breakfast menu. See partiesbypanache.com for more information.
“People have been very appreciative of the Quarantine Menu—the response has been great,” she noted. “It’s a lot of work preparing meals for two and not 200, like we’re used to doing, but it keeps the cash flow going a little bit and promotes good will in the community.”
Place your order by Thursdays at 12:00 noon for Sunday pickup or delivery. Check the website for new menus and food items posted on Sundays for the following week.
“I’ve been asked if we might continue doing meals for two afterwards,” O’Brien said. “It’s something I’ve thought about, and maybe we will. Older people, working people, appreciate having a good dinner delivered for two people.” Call (714) 572-2190 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to place your order or for questions. (Note: All details are correct as of this writing, early May. Check the websites for updates).
Blueberry Hill BBQ Beef Ribs
8 to 10 beef ribs
2 bay leaves
1 whole peeled yellow or white onion
1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 peeled whole garlic cloves
- Fill stockpot with water, bay leaves, onion, peppercorns, kosher salt, and garlic. Let water come to a boil, then lower temperature to a simmer. Simmer ribs 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on how thick meat is, until meat starts to fall off bone.
- Remove meat from water and let stand about 2 minutes to let all the water drip off. You may want to use a paper towel to pat ribs dry. Using barbecue brush, coat meat with sauce (recipe follows).
- Place ribs on medium to medium-high grill about 5 minutes, turn meat and cook another 5 minutes, or until the barbecue sauce becomes caramelized. Remove and add more sauce if desired.
Blueberry Hill Sweet Honey BBQ Sauce
Yield: 4 to 5 cups
4 cups ketchup
5 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons orange juice
½ cup Coke (or similar cola)
5 teaspoons lemon juice
¾ cup honey
½ teaspoon soy sauce
2½ teaspoons seasoned salt
2½ teaspoons paprika
2½ teaspoons garlic powder
½ tablespoon onion powder
½ teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon celery salt
Using a wire whisk, mix all ingredients together in a bowl. Refrigerate 1 hour
Source: Blueberry Hill
Parties by Panache Pecan Pie Rugelach
This recipe was developed several years ago for Thanksgivukkah and has become a favorite.
Yield: About 4 dozen
½ pound unsalted butter, slightly softened
½ pound cream cheese, slightly softened
2 cups all-purpose flour
Filling (recipe follows)
1 large egg, beaten (for egg wash)
- Combine butter and cream cheese in electric mixer and mix well. On low speed, slowly add flour and mix until it forms a dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour.
- Roll out dough on floured board to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut 5-inch wide strips (length of dough). Sprinkle filling over dough and roll entire length of dough like jelly roll. Cut “log” into 1½-inch pieces OR cut dough into 10-11 inch circles. Sprinkle filling over dough and cut into 12 triangles (like pizza). Roll up each individual triangle, starting from wide end into narrow point at center (like a crescent roll). Note: Brush edges of dough with egg wash to seal before rolling.
- Preheat oven to 350 F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Transfer rugelach to prepared baking sheet ½” apart. Brush lightly with egg wash. Sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar. Bake until lightly brown, 20-30 minutes.
Pecan Pie Filling
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups pecan pieces, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon corn syrup
½ cup brown sugar
Melt butter in small saucepan until foamy and then turns light brown. Take off heat and stir in remaining ingredients. Let cool completely.
Source: Parties by Panache
Jlife Food Editor Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of “Cooking Jewish” (Workman) and “The Perfect Passover Cookbook” (an e-book short from Workman), a columnist and feature writer for the Orange County Register and other publications and can be found on the web at www.cookingjewish.com.