Secrets to a Successful Dinner Party: The Holiday Meal

The chicken soup is now resting comfortably in the freezer.

What? Wait, a minute. Isn’t it only September? Yes, it is. And that means, while it is not quite Christmas yet, the Jewish Holidays are fast approaching. The holidays are, in a way, the ultimate dinner party. Everyone has their holiday favorites, there are traditions to be upheld and expectations to manage. 

While at a regular dinner party I can serve whatever strikes my fancy, the holidays have a few more, mostly implied, rules. And there are more meals. For Rosh Hashana next week we will be having a big dinner at our house on both Wednesday and Thursday nights. (We will also have one on Friday, but that will consist mainly of leftovers.)

A lot of people like to take the potluck approach to holidays, asking friends and family to each bring a dish. I don’t. Why? Well, for one thing, I keep kosher and many of my friends do not. Rather than explaining all of the things something can or cannot have in it, I generally will just make the food myself. Second of all: quality control. Does that make a snob? Yes. Do I care? No. And nobody seems to be complaining about not having to make a side dish.

I start with the menus, listing each of the holiday favorites, and any additional dishes I would like to make, then divide them up over the two nights. The beginning of the meal is pretty easy, as it does not change. We have gefilte fish (don’t knock it until you’ve tried mine – it’s crazy good), and chicken soup with matzoh balls and kreplach (little meat dumplings, which really warrant their own post). After that, it is all about the brisket, chicken, lamb and side dishes (like the awesome mashed potato kugel).

It is admittedly a challenge to plan the meal, and prepare for two nights in a row of 12-14 people each. But the truth is, it is no different than any other meal. I make my chicken soup weeks in advance and freeze it (tip: it is then much easier to scrape the fat off the top.) I make the brisket in advance as well, because nobody wants to fuss with a 12 pound slab of beef when guests are expected to arrive at any moment.

This year was my first foray into kreplach. When we got Latke a few months ago, I really wanted to name her after this little, delicious food product. But sadly, the singular is krepl, and that does not make for a good dog name. I ended up with about  dozen of these little pillows of goodness, some of them a little better looking than others, but my mother was not kidding when she said they were a pain in the butt. It took me most of the afternoon to prepare the filling, make the dough, stuff and form each one. My guests should be able to taste the love in the first four and a half dozen, but by the last half I think all they will taste is frustration. (There was a lot of leftover dough that dried out, some of the dough got hard to handle, and I overfilled a few.

Overall, I expect the holidays to go smoothly. If not, I will take my own advice and not panic. After all, the two best cooks I know – my mother and my mother-in-law will both be on hand to aid in any crisis. Photos to come post-holiday.

Happy Jewish New Year, if you celebrate. If not, try to find someone making chicken soup and get yourself an invite. Stat.

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