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Holiday party - need help!

Hi, hounds -- I need some help.

A large number of my husband's colleagues are Orthodox, and keep very stringent kosher.

We're planning on having a small holiday party for the office on a Thursday evening (after Hanukah) so that everyone can attend. I want to make sure that I have something nice on offer for all of our guests, regardless of their dietary guidelines, as I refuse to welcome people into my home and then not have a good selection of nice things to eat and drink on hand for everyone.

A little background:

I know that kosher varies widely, even family by family, so I know that I'm not going to be able to be all things to all people -- but I want to have as wide and acceptable a selection as I can.
I had tons of friends in college/university who kept kosher, so while I'm not expert, I do at least have a working knowledge of the important rules (I need help on subtleties!)
We had a cookout this summer, and I bought a small grill on which to separately cook kosher hamburgers, and had duplicates of all the foods I put out (in colored bowls to clarify which were which) that my other guests were eating. I have a separate wash basin in which to wash the items I bought for this event, so can reuse them (at the reassurance of one of the guys who attended this summer).
There's a decent casher grocery not far from me, so I do have access to marked products, including wines.
(Casher is not a typo; it's the French word for Kosher)

What say you, hounds? Please guide me toward a great holiday party!

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  1. Sunshine... What City are you in...that would help us guide you to some great ideas.

    You will need to get packaged items that are left unopened, or uncut fruit like grapes and clementines.

    I'll let other chime in... but I am thinking about cheese and crackers with the fruit.

    Do you want to serve hot food?

    8 Replies
    1. re: vallevin

      I'm just outside of Paris (so any tips from Paris folks would be awesome - I can make a trip into the city if there's something great there, which there might be!)

      I would *like* to serve hot food, but I'm unsure about heating/reheating in my oven (since my grill couldn't be used last summer) and microwave, and short of setting an unopened dish from a deli or similar on my radiator, don't have any other way to keep anything at serving temperature.

      I can easily get hummus, olives, tapenades, crackers, etc...but I was hoping someone could point me toward something holiday-special, rather than humdrum.

      1. re: sunshine842

        If you can obtain cold cuts and kosher bread you can make a variety of gourmet sandwiches. Like turkey with olive tapenade and crunchy raddiccio. Salami with whole grain mustard and cornichon etc. Add a salad and some fruit and that would be a beautiful meal. I would be happy with that as long as I was assured that the food was kosher and you had used a brand new utensils, bowls etc.. and even then the stuff is cold so utensils are less of an issue. I would stay away from cooked food unless you ordered out as some may feel uncomfortable if something was cooked in your home even with new pots, as they think you are not familiar with the kosher rules and could easily make a mistake. If you wanted to go that route you could buy a brand new slow cooker and make a stew of some sort using kosher ingredients and brand new utensils and put the slow cooker out with plastic plates etc.

        1. re: sunshine842

          What are you serving for the non kosher guests? As long as you're not serving a giant three course meal, I think the hummus and olive spread would be quite nice.

          1. re: cheesecake17

            for some reason the (Hulk) Hogan Knows Best Kosher party (on VH!) in Miami beach a couple of years ago keeps replaying in my head with every post on this thread

            1. re: cheesecake17

              I'd like to go with things usually served at holiday parties -- obviously, the scallops wrapped in bacon are out (!!), but I'm leaning toward things like a baked Brie (which is hilarious - the French have never heard of it, but it gets devoured every time I serve it)...several of the attendees will still be commuting back into Paris afterward, so I need to go heavy appetizers, as the singles will have it be dinner, and the marrieds won't get dinner until late.

              Hummus, tapenade, pistachios, and olives are pretty much mainstays anyway, but I'm looking for that nice "something" for the holidays.

              And berel, I'm going to run with the assumption that you don't mean any harm. I DO understand that kosher is more than pickles. (I'm also a significantly higher life form than the Hogan family, but that's a different conversation.)

              1. re: sunshine842

                Perhaps for that something a bit more festive.. you can contact a kosher caterer.. like mamaleh mentioned below.

                You don't have to cater the whole event, but maybe purchase a few prepared appetizers that can be served cold or room temperature or heated double wrapped in your oven. A kosher restaurant may be able to do the same type of thing for you.

                1. re: sunshine842

                  Cheese can be a very iffy choice. I can't remember the details, but some cheeses use a meat protein in the production process, obviously a kosher no-no. There are kosher cheeses, but the most Orthodox would avoid eating cheese that they haven't purchased. Some will eat the cheese if the first person to eat the cheese breaks into a sealed package with the kosher authority's seal obvious, but that won't work in the case of baked brie.

                  Cocktail-sized potato latkes topped with sour cream and a slice of smoked salmon might be the nice holiday something you're looking for, but some ultra-observant folks will worry about the pots and pans you used to prepare the latkes so that won't work for everyone.

                  Whatever you serve, plan on placing it on a table separate from the rest of the food. To make this look more gracious, you might consider placing all the kosher compliant foods on that table: hummus, nuts, olives, crudites, etc.

              2. re: sunshine842

                Some of my kosher-compliant friends would eat cooked food in my home if I cooked it on one of those stiff alumnium broiler racks or shallow casserole-type containers. That way, the food never touched any part of my oven.

                You might be able to serve marinated diced chicken on skewers if there are no dairy dishes served.

                Stuffed mushrooms (stuffing of bread, kosher chicken stock, more diced mushrooms, and finely diced carrots and celery) could also be heated on one of these disposable trays.

            2. If a large number of the guests are Orthodox, I would hire a kosher caterer or order your food from a kosher restaurant (a dairy restaurant if you are planning on serving brie). Check with your guests to make sure the level of supervision is acceptable, since there are different opinions even within Orthodoxy. There are many good one in Paris. That way, you don't have to worry about any of the details including heating arrangements. It also means that everyone at the party can eat the same food, and nobody has to feel weird or excluded about eating from "the kosher table" and everyone can trust what you have arranged. If the caterer will not be present at the party, he/she can also give you the sealed pans of food, heating instructions, or disposable chafing dishes. Go to www.123cacher.com for a list of restaurants and caterers that can help you in your area.

              4 Replies
              1. re: mamaleh

                only problem is, I'm WAY out of the delivery area for any of them.

                I started with 123cacher, and mangercacher, and came back here because there are no options available, so I'm on my own.

                1. re: sunshine842

                  Ask one of your guests who keeps kosher to pick up the food or help with the delivery arrangements. I'm sure one of them lives near a kosher food source. Trust me, they are used to it and will be overwhelmed that you are going out of your way to accommodate them.

                  1. re: mamaleh

                    I know you're trying to be helpful, and I sincerely appreciate your efforts.

                    I can't, however, ask people to be late to work (or to leave work a few hours early) to go back into the city to make *my* party possible. (Caterers and delis don't open until well after most offices have started their day.) As above, I'm way out of the delivery areas, which means that it's not a quick trip to just go pick up a tray or something. If something has to be picked up in the city, it's got to be me, under my own power.

                    I have a kosher grocery nearby, and that is my only option. That's why I'm trying so hard to find workarounds.

                    1. re: sunshine842

                      Does the kosher grocery have a takeout section?

                      If the kosher grocery has a nice selection of cheeses, you can arrange those on a (new) platter with a (new) knife and set those out for your kosher guests with crackers. A nice touch that I've seen is to make kind of 'placecards' for each kosher food- cut out the label and kosher certification and make a mini card to set up next to each item. That way your guests know it's kosher and don't have to ask.

              2. You should be aware that ANYTHING really nice and special that you cook (unless it could be eaten raw) will automatically not be kosher, even if you cook it in brand new equipment, unless a shabbat-keeping Jew participated in the process, e.g. by stirring the pot, adding an ingredient, putting it on the fire, etc.. There really isn't any good way around this. So I'd advise you to give up on the idea of cooking anything for the kosher-keeping guests, and stick to things that can be served as is.

                There are actually some very nice kosher cheeses in France that are unobtainable in the USA. They mostly seem to come from Strasbourg, but they should be available at your local cacher grocery. Ask the staff there. Just keep the packaging they came in; if you arrange the cheese on a plate, attach the packaging to the plate so they can see what it is.

                PS: commenters please bear in mind that in France a large majority of observant Jews are Sefaradim.

                6 Replies
                1. re: zsero

                  Sunshine... the only way you can reliably serve hot food is to get something catered with a taped seal and have it on chafing dishes. You could go into Paris the day before to pick up items I suppose but I would hate for you to kill yourself by trying too hard. I know you want to go the extra mile, but what will make your guests feel genuinely welcome is food that they can eat.

                  If there is a kosher grocer in your area, I am guessing there might be SOME kind of catering function available nearby... What are Orthodox synagogues in your area or Chabad houses?

                  1. re: zsero

                    I *know* I can't cook anything in my pots/pans with my utensils, and quite possibly not even in my oven. I was thinking along the lines of disposable chafing dishes, and yes, of putting the labels on/near the dishes.

                    What I WILL NOT do is throw out a few bowls of kosher nuts and pretzels while everybody else munches down on a great spread. I will cancel the entire party before I will do that -- it's not fair, it's not my definition of hospitality, and I won't subject my guests to it.

                    1. re: sunshine842

                      Sunshine - you'll get a lot of speculation on this board that can be alleviated by talking to your guests, if possible. Maybe they are more liberal than you think. Maybe they will eat food that is ingredient-kosher even if prepared/cooked in a non-kosher kitchen. They are degrees of kosher-observance. You may be able to avoid some stress if you find out the answer.

                      1. re: craigcep

                        No - ingredient-kosher is not acceptable for this group. (I had a cookout this summer, and relied heavily on a couple of the guests for guidance - I bought a small grill specifically for cooking kosher hamburgers, as the other grill is treif, even if I used foil).

                        I'll go tomorrow to the grocery, have a look around, and see who/what they know for traiteurs/boulangers/patissiers/etc...

                        1. re: sunshine842

                          Good luck. It's so nice of you to be so interested in trying. If serving them a real hot meal is that important to you then the only way to do it is to ask them for the name of a kosher take-out/caterer nearby, order them their meals and pick up that food earlier in the day. Tell the caterer/take-out that it will be placed in a disposable chafing dish so he can wrap correctly and do not open the seal. Allow the guests to do it. Again, it's really nice of you. They will be fine with packaged lox, cheese, and crackers if you can get those. When you ask them about the caterer, they will likely reply with this. That's what we usually do in these situations. It's on us, you know, and we are ok with it. They'll be happy to hang out with you.

                      2. re: sunshine842

                        It's not even a matter of your utensils or your oven (though those are issues too). Even if you cook with brand new utensils in a new oven (or as you say with disposables), if what you cook can't be eaten raw, and it's a nice enough dish that it could be served at a formal dinner (which is what you're talking about) then by definition it is not kosher. There is NOTHING you can do about that, except recruit a sabbath-observant Jew to help you cook, which I doubt you want to do. So it's best not to bother with cooked food in the first place. It's just not worth it, and none of your observant guests will expect it.

                        Also, when buying kosher wine for your party, check the label or ask the shop assistant for help to make sure it's mevuchal. If you buy non-mevuchal wine it will be a pure headache making sure only the right people handle it once it's open. It will drive you nuts for no good reason. Buy mevuchal and spare yourself the trouble.

                    2. The original comment has been removed
                      1. Sunshine: You also should be aware that Friday, Dec 17 is a fast day. Although people will be able to eat Thursday evening, they will not want to stay up too late because some folks like to wake up while it's still dark to eat a quick breakfast.

                        You are super nice to be doing this. I wish I worked with you!!!

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: SoCal Mother

                          Thanks for that heads-up - that's one of those things that's so important to know, and tough to find out.

                          It will be right after work, so nothing terribly late, and morning comes very late here in the northern latitudes (almost 9 am)...so hopefully I won't upset anyone's plans.