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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:
      http://www.beth-tzedec.org/home.do?ch...

      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.

        http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

        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!

        http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/al...

        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.