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Help Please - the slow creeping beginnings of Jewish New Year cooking Angst

It is 3 or 4 weeks away? Doesn't matter. Angst has started. No-one I know can give me advice on this. Perhaps, maybe, not sure, but leaning towards having father, father's girlfriend, MIL, and perhaps an aunt and uncle over for holiday. Small kitchen, small apartment, little cooking ability and knowledge though am brave and know how to conquer roast chicken and filet mignon. That I can do. So here are my questions before I delve into every single one of Joan Nathan's books to the point where post-its are being thrown in willy nilly fasion and litter the floor around me...

1. What to cook for 7 (including me and bf)? Cannot be ridiculously expensive and nothing too avant garde for my family that's coming here if that's the right word...standards are needed here but I don't want it to get boring. Thinking an appetizer buffet thing I can just lay out of things purchased from store (cheese/crackers/dips/vegetables,etc.). Then soup? (I can make good soup, Then salad? or some other first course that's light? then entree with sides? Dessert I can figure out I guess

2. Quantity of things needed - how many chickens for the group, etc. They REALLY like to eat!

3. How to order the prep and cooking so I'm not in the kitchen the whole day and everything is cooked and/or reheated at the same time. I am really bad at that by the way...

Help! Please! :-)

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  1. You will never go wrong with chicken soup and matzah balls - easy to make and can be made ahead of time and for the matzah balls use the mix - follow the recipe and they will come out perfectly - roast cut up chicken plan about 1-2 pieces per person doing it cut up you can get enough dark meat and white meat for everybody - and since you are roasting - have roast vegetables for the side -

    1 Reply
    1. re: weinstein5

      I don't go along with the mb mix--where we live the boxes are often old, and the contents rancid. If you are hesitant to make your own, perhaps you can find frozen ones for $1 each--I recall seeing these each year in the kosher stores.

      brisket is pricey, so I always make 3 pounds. cook in whatever red wine that has been sitting the fridge and no one will drink (ie Man'z) or ginger ale--something sweet; lots of onions and tomatos; cook 3 to 5 hours. It's not a main course--everyone just takes a little, and remember it shrinks when cooking. It might be too hot to cook in a small apt.

      gefilte fish is easy--either frozen, or use the can and bottle stuff and recook it. Don't forget horse radish or mustard or mayo for it.

      But, for RH, you really need the "simanim"--apples and honey; maybe some carrots. Look up tzimmes--sweet vegetable stew--and just cook the ones you like. Here's an article suggesting different simanim, as well as a reminder to have a new fruit for the season so you can include a special blessing for being alive to appreciate everything at this time of year:

      I wouldn't sweat the amounts--everyone just takes a percentage of each dish, and no one walks away hungry if you have enough salad, challah and spreads, and fruit.

    2. It sounds like you aren't kosher. Are any of your guests?
      We usually go veggie/fish...
      Anyway, I love a few nibbles (simple is great, marcona almonds, olives, maybe some veggies and one dip) then
      apples and honey
      challah and honey
      soup (chicken soup would be great, with one chicken, I often do lentils and vegetables, sometimes with morroccan flavorings). soup can be made in advance and then reheated.
      green salad -- this is often unpopular, but I really like it at a meal like this. I often serve salad after soup but with the main meal, some yummy veggies (or goat cheese if it's a dairy meal) added in, pomegranate seeds are a delightful addition, and represent an abundant new year
      main dish -- I often do poached salmon, or a big piece of roasted fish; a small turkey would be great, as would brisket. I personally wouldn't do chicken soup and roast chicken.
      side dishes -- I love to do honey roasted carrots and rice pilaf. Any veggie and any starch could work
      Dessert -- fresh fruit, and any two desserts including honey cake, apple pie or galette or tart, or a something chocolatey. Honey ice cream would be great if you have an ice cream maker. I've also made lemon cake with honey buttercream. Dessert can definitely be made in advance.

      1. My first time hosting a seder was 3 years ago and I had 16 people in my NYC apartment. For me, the key is being organized and making/preparing as much as you can ahead of time. And I literally make a spreadsheet listing the dishes to be made, when they are being made and where they are being reheated (stovetop/oven/toaster/microwave) and what serving pieces/platters are needed. I'm not kidding, it keeps me sane.

        I would suggest having some appetizers for when people arrive. Crudite and dip, hummus, or I really like this Olive and Artichoke Tapenade. You can make it a few days in advance.


        You can make soup ahead of time and freeze it. I make matzoh balls 1 day in advance (agree with weinstein5 on using a mix) and then reheat in the thawed soup on the day of the dinner. I would skip salad. Soup is filling.

        Are you set on chicken? I like this Alton Brown 40 Cloves and A Chicken recipe. Very easy and it's always a hit. For 7 people, I would make 3 chickens (cut up into 8 pieces) plus a few extra breasts. I hate the thought of running out of food!


        Or there's Chicken Marbella. You prepare everything the night before and just cook it the day of.

        Do you have a toaster oven? Microwave? These really come in handy when you are trying to heat up several things at once.

        I can't stress enough that you should try to do as much in advance as you can, even if it's just the day before. You will need plenty of time on the day of the dinner and the day will go quickly!

        Hope that helps.

        2 Replies
        1. re: valerie

          I'd keep it (very) simple. People don't expect or want wild innovation at holiday time. Try browsing any of Susie Fishbein's cookbooks for inspiration. She is genius! Jewish food tends to be heavy anyway so I wouldn't do an appie buffet or any appies at all for that matter. I'd do gefilte fish, challah, green salad with vinaigrette dressing, roasted chicken entree. (I am vegetarian so obviously what I do for my family is different from this but these are the basics.) There are great easy side dishes for things like carrots or new potatoes or roasted veggies that would be a nice accompaniment. Honey cake is a good dessert at High Holidays. Also brisket is surprisingly easy and you can plan enough to have leftovers. You can find good brisket recipes online or in any traditional Jewish cookbook.

          1. re: valerie

            Chicken Marbella is a very good idea, but DON'T OVERCOOK IT!!! I have had several ChickMarbs that were tasty but contained dried out chicken breasts that ruined the dish.

          2. Since you're comfortable with roasting a chicken, I would start with that for the main dish, and make 2. You can roast veggies (onions, carrots, potatoes, brussels sprouts make a great combo, pretty and all cook for the same length of time) in a half sheet pan on the rack below your chicken. They will take about 35 minutes. We always start with Matzo ball soup, chicken or no chicken as main course. We serve broth with balls, no meat (a little chopped parsley on top for color). I suggest a green salad before dessert, which can be a purchased fruit tart (apple is traditional).

            As your guests are gathering, a glass of sparkling wine with some almonds and olives as was already suggested is festive, tasty and EASY! Challah is, of course, essential for New Years. If you don't make your own, be sure to order one from a great bakery.

            1. Don't be afraid to try a brisket. I use the Gail Zweigenthal (sp?) from Gourmet. It has maybe 5 ingredients and not only can you make it ahead of time, you should. The taste improves if made at least one day in advance. The recipe says to reheat in the oven but I always do it on the stovetop. The recipe is all over the 'net but here is one link.
              http://recipes.chef2chef.net/recipe-a... I'm not sure I buy the 12 servings part.
              Five pounds of raw brisket may not be enough if your 7 guests are really hearty eater, but once you add in the soup, gefilte fish from a jar or the freezer, potato or noodles sides, etc., I don't think you'll have to worry about anyone going away hungry. Unless you know your invitees want it, skip the salad. At a holiday meal I usually find it goes uneaten.

              If you're not a comfortable baker and you live in a decent-sized city, go for a bakery-made dessert. If you'd like to make something simple in advance, you could do baked apples with a dried fruit stuffing. Nuts are generally considered a no-no for Rosh Hashanah but if you don't mind using them, throw some nuts into the filling, too. If you're not kosher or kosher-style, top with whipped cream, maybe with some cinnamon beaten in.

              3 Replies
              1. re: rockycat

                Rockycat, that is so interesting about the nuts. I had never heard of that before you posted then I got curious and googled. Do you think that is more of an Ashkenaz thing? (I am Ashkenaz by blood but grew up non-observant and my Jewish traditions come from extended family like cousins aunts etc who married Sephardic, Rhodesli, Greek men so holidays etc are based on what I saw with them - maybe that's one of the many different traditions between Ashk. & Seph?)

                re: baking -- definitely anyone who lives in a city with a Jewish bakery should not pull her attention away from cooking by baking challah or desserts! Bakery challah is so good and you'll be busy enough so don't worry that it's bad to buy it - it's *better* to buy it! I have a good recipe for lekach that I can post - it's so good. It actually tastes better if you make it a few days ahead and it freezes and thaws well too.

                1. re: drucie

                  I'm not sure about the Ashkenaz v. Sepharad thing, but this the origin of the nut avoidance:

                  Each letter in Hebrew has a numerical value associated with it; ie, aleph=1, bet=2, gimmel=3, etc. The word for "nut" is "egoz" (aleph, gimmel, vav, zayin). It's numerical value is 17, the same as the word for "chet," (chaf, tet) which is Hebrew for "sin." So, we avoid eating nuts so as not to bring reminders of sin into the season of repentence.

                  1. re: rockycat

                    That makes more sense, Rockycat -- what I googled said it was because nuts make your mouth produce saliva that interferes with prayer. The explanation around egoz itself makes sense.

              2. I am totally with Valerie on this one, I think Chicken Marbella is the tops to feed a big group of chicken eaters. You have already gotten a lot of great advice but if you want to try something new, think about sephardic recipes--epicurious has a bunch. Also, given that your oven will be full of chicken, you will likely want to limit your baked side dishes. If you want to try a non-matzah ball soup alternative maybe a roasted butternut squash soup or something else with a little sweetness for the new year.

                I also second the idea of buying dessert if you can source a nice honey cake or something similar.

                If you aren't married to chicken and have a crockpot, then brisket is great too--even if you are having chicken, a crockpot is a great way to keep mashed vegetables or soups hot w/o sacrificing counter space.

                Good luck and L'shanah tovah!

                1. Yes, I can sympathize, can't believe it is 3 weeks away. The way I organize the holiday is to make my menu(s) first. As both evening meals and kiddush lunches after services are at my house, it is usually 4 large meal, 2 dairy and 2 meat. Here are some suggestions:

                  - With a small kitchen and assuming not much storage space, plan on making homemade chicken soup & matzo balls in advance and freezing. If you are doing 2 meals, one night can be chicken and the next beef with egg noodles.
                  - Buy prepared gefilte fish, herring in sour cream, whatever you will serve for appetizers as well as ingredients for relish tray (sour pickles, Deluxe Delight, green & black olives, etc.)
                  - For mains, instead of 2 roast chickens for 7 people, have you ever prepared a capon, they run about 9-10 lb and would serve your group nicely without much leftovers? It is very juicy, tasty, doesn't take that much longer. Ina Garten has a great recipe with roasted carrots and potatoes. They run about $2.49/lb. in Central Ohio, we can only get them frozen, but try for a fresh one if you can. A brisket is also a great choice as you can make in advance and leftovers make terrific sandwiches on kaiser rolls. Unfortunately, my family is not happy with brisket, they like their meat still moving and I usually roast a bone in rib roast med rare
                  - As Rosh Hashanna celebrates the sweetness of the New Year, a noodle kugel is a great side dish and can be prepared in advance up to 1 day before or, up to 1-2 weeks, if frozen
                  - as for desserts, we like honey cake, coffee cakes, pound cakes all of which can be made in advance and frozen
                  - Up to 1 week before - cook soup(s), matzo balls, freeze in plastic containers. Prepare noodle kugel, freeze. Bake your desserts and freeze.
                  - If you are doing brisket, prepare up to 1 week in advance, cool, slice and freeze
                  - Day before - clean capon, refrigerate ready to roast. Clean any roasting vegetables, store in fridge in large bowl of cold water (potatoes, carrots). Make relish tray, cover well, refrigerate.
                  - Day before - defrost all your frozen stuff in fridge. Leave cakes at room temp.
                  - Afternoon of - refrigerate and plate appetizers, cut cakes, arrange on platters, cover well, set table, clean & polish candlesticks, open wine
                  - 2 hours before dinner, roast capon and veggies
                  - 1 hour before - re-heat noodle kugel, warm up soup, add matzo balls 15-30 min before serving, slice apples, make small bowl of honey
                  Let me know if you need any recipes, L'Shana Tova!

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Diane in Bexley

                    Diane - thank you for the breakdown!

                    I decided to cook Rosh Hashanna dinner for my boyfriend's Hungarian Jewish family and a few friends - we'll see how everything goes....

                    So far, the menu looks like this:
                    Vinegar & Paprika Cucumber Salad
                    Saffron Rice with Peas & almonds
                    Apple/Honey plate (collection of different apples)
                    Baby greens/pomegranate/walnut salad
                    Noodle Kugel
                    Honey Cake

                    1. re: littlemissbusiness

                      LMB, we are Hungarian too! My 80 yo mother just finished making poppyseed and nut roll coffeecake (dios tasta) and freezing them. Your menu sounds great. We make lots of cucumber salad too and have several different recipes - sweet & sour with red wine, apple cider or plain vinegar, with dill (kind of tastes like half sour pickles, or with vinegar and sour cream.

                      Had 8 people for Shabbat last week and didn't get home till 5. Made a brisket and kugel, prepared gefilte fish and chopped liver, roasted asparagus and relish tray and company brought dessert. No problem! Set the table the night before, heated up everything when I came home and we ate @ 6:30.

                      You will do fine - good luck.

                    2. re: Diane in Bexley

                      Very good ideas about preparation for the holiday. Now with the approach of
                      sukkot I made stuffed cabbage. The stuffed cabbage is in my freezer. The holiday is this
                      Saturday. Do you think taking it out Thursday morning is OK.

                    3. Make a kugel for sure. I just made one on Sunday( its from martha stewart everyday food).

                      1. Probably too late, but at my sister's we are having:
                        --Chopped liver
                        --Gefilte fish
                        --Chicken soup with kreplach/matzoh balls
                        --Stuffed Cabbage
                        --Roast turkey
                        --Sauteed broccolini
                        --Noodle kugel
                        --Sweet potato souffle
                        --Fresh fruit
                        --Honey cake
                        --Blueberry cheesecake

                        Obviously, you can tell from that last one that we are not kosher. Although the stuffed cabbage is, in this case being made the day before and not being frozen, it can be made weeks in advance and frozen, as can brisket.

                        As others have said, the soup can be made in advance and frozen. I don't like pre-made matzoh balls, but use the boxed mix, which works well, especially if you are unsure of yourself. You can mix it up the day before, so all you have to do is boil them.

                        This is the first holiday without Mom, who used to do the gefilte fish. I just picked up the ingredients and have her giant wearever pot and the notes I took when I watched her do it last year, so it should be ok.

                        The two biggest "helps" to me when I am doing the whole meal are to do whatever I can in advance and freeze, and to make two lists, one for shopping the other sort of plotting out what I am cooking, figuring out how long each thing takes, so I can figure out in what order to do things and when I have to start. Also helps since I have to juggle things with only one oven and a small convection oven..

                        7 Replies
                        1. re: Shayna Madel

                          It's not too late actually - thank you for all your suggestions. I have actually done nothing in the last 2 weeks related to this topic - found out shortly after I posted that future MIL is away for holiday and my father is working (correct - we are not religious) so now not sure what to do - original idea is out. Considering having another couple over and if so would just modify the above -stuffed cabagge sounds good and would be nice for leftovers and I like a lot of the other ideas too! This is actually a great thread for me now because there's so many tips on planning for a gathering, etc. which I will eventually do! Thank you! I'll definitley be referencing this a lot (hopefully soon!) :-)

                          1. re: Shayna Madel

                            Shayna Madel - slightly off topic on CH but this is my fifth holiday without mom and I still think of her - half the recipies I was considering are from an old worn steno book she gave me with her recipies that she wanted me to have when she wasn't around anymore to tell me how to cook. My sympathies to you and your family.

                            1. re: lovessushi

                              Thanks for your kind words. For years, I had said that I wanted to learn the "core" holiday foods--chicken soup, brisket, kasha varnishka and gefilte fish. Mom had no written recipes for any of this stuff. Over the last 5-6 years, I got to everything on my own, but the fish and not only does it taste like Mom made, it tastes good, as she was great at the traditional foods. I did the fish this morning--looks good, texture is good, but I have a little work to do on the salt and pepper.. All in all, quite successful, considering it was a different fish store and I would have liked a little more in the way of fish heads and bones for the pot (the guy seems not to have given me leftovers from anyone else who didn't want them, as I had asked) and I didn't have the fine points down exactly. I don't think I will be poisoning anyone over the next few days. Maybe if I start buying fish there more often, he'll manage to find me more fish bones in the fall. Happy and sad at the same time, but we are keeping the tradtions going. And I am pretty sure that I heard her voice while I was cooking.

                              And FYI for those who have never done gefilte fish. If you buy the fish at a good store and they grind it for you and you can get past dealing with the fish heads in the bottom of the pot, it's really no harder than meatballs. Okay, so it's more expensive, but it's only once or twice a year.

                              1. re: Shayna Madel

                                Had a reaction to your comment about the holiday without your Mom, First, my condolences. My mom is almost 80 and this Rosh Hashanna, we discovered she really doesn't have the stamina or the "touch" anymore for holiday cooking and baking. She made quite a few of the usual suspects, however, things didn't turn out as usual. Yesterday during the kiddush after shul, we discussed that she needs to write down the ingredients and instruction by holiday of our family favorites.

                                This is important to us, because we are fressers first class and don't want to be deprived. We have a date after Sukkot to sit down with the computer and all of Mom's little scraps of papers to transcibe her recipes into a family cookbook. There is myself, my 2 daughters and my niece. From now on, Mom will be cooking for the holiday with a family member in tow. We are going to divide all the delicacies and each of us will take responsibility for learning a few favorites.

                                1. re: Diane in Bexley

                                  I have figured out the soup but not much else yet. Made a roast chicken with garlic one year that came out really well - but have yet to try brisket or gefilte fish. The soup was already written in the book she gave me and boyfriend's mom cooks a mean soup so between two it was awesome! Felt like I had accomplished something wonderful :-) Diane what a nice thing to do with your mom - I wish I had done that with mine - there are all these little things I would've asked her about the things she wrote down.

                                  We wound up just having dinner for the two of us - made a chicken tagine (sp?) dish which was sweet and different and actually came out ok - hopefully for Hannukah or Passover will get to have everyone over and will get to try out all these ideas, etc. Shanah Tovah to you and yours! :-)

                                  1. re: lovessushi

                                    My ex-mother-in-law was a horrible cook. To follow her lead would be like serving Thanksgiving dinner from McDonald's.

                                    Her gefilte fish was a jar of store-bought with some matzoh crumbs mushed in and reformed. Her chicken soup "secret" was to add a packet of Lipton's Noodle Soup to the pot.

                                    Not traditional holiday food, but she made steaks (fab steaks provided by her wholesale butcher bro-in-law) by completely covering both sides with Lawry's Seasoned Salt, putting them in the broiler and THEN turning it on. Gray and orange were steak colors at her house.

                                    The family was constantly dissing each other behind backs and saying things like "Well, I suppose if you think that's what you should do...." and "Suit yourself".

                                    BUT, when it came time for holiday meals everybody turned into loveable, charming and warm people with great senses of humor. It was amazing. Usually one reads about how families end up screaming "I'll never speak to you again!" or "You've always hated me!" at holiday get-togethers.

                                    The atmosphere was so great that we didn't even mind the awful food. The day after, everybody went back to bickering.

                                    1. re: oakjoan

                                      Nothing to add. Just expressing my appreciation for the marvelous image of the usual turned inside out!