Jamie Geller boils down five tips for setting the menu for a holiday meal.
Essentially, my tips break into two categories: Menu Choices, and How to Make It Happen. See below for my Five Menu Tips. Visit me at: JoyofKosher.com for How to Make It Happen.
1. Plan your menu with the precision of an astronaut going to the moon.
It should consist mostly of make-ahead dishes — foods that can be frozen — or at the very least prepped the day before the guests arrive. There are many recipes that aren’t affected by freezing and, in some cases, flavors may even be enhanced by the re-warming process (as with braised meat dishes). Plan your menu so you can cook and freeze whatever is possible ahead of time: soups, stews, briskets, meatballs, lasagnas — the list goes on, as there are many options.
2. Delegate, delegate, delegate.
Don’t be too proud to accept offers of help. I have had people bring the main, the dessert, the side, the drinks — whatever they offer and whatever is easy for them. People love to feel part of the festivities, to feel they have contributed. You’re doing them a favor by letting them. Usually, they have a specialty dish they would like to bring, so be careful in the conversation not to keep the options too open-ended, unless you haven’t planned your menu yet and you’re ready to plan around their favorites.
I find the easiest thing to delegate is dessert — because you can always use a few options. One dessert doesn’t cancel out the other and it’s easy for people who don’t bake to pick up something at the bakery. Don’t forget things like drinks or paper goods: These things add up in dollars, and many people prefer those easy options to contribute to the party.
3. This is why God created turkeys.
Plan to cook dishes that naturally serve a lot of people; a turkey or a large roast are both good choices. The idea is that you are making one big thing instead of fiddling with 50 meatballs, or 30 patties, or 200 Buffalo wings.
4. The more people at your table, the simpler the menu should be.
Stay with your tried-and-true favorites; this is not the time to experiment. A stressed-out host or hostess is definitely not chic. No matter how good the food is, your emotional state will set the tone for the meal.
So you want to minimize room for error by cooking something you could do in your sleep. If you’re feeling adventurous and want to try something special or creative, do a new salad or a different soup, such as the Italian Wedding Soup I have shared below — or even try one new side.
But don’t experiment with every course, and the main should never be the New Surprise. The surprise could be on you, and just worrying about it will curl up the hostess’ apron.
5. Stay on the beaten path.
Super-spicy or off-the-beaten-path dishes will be fun until you find out that one of your guests can’t eat the dish due to medical reasons, allergies or otherwise. Make an effort to find out about allergies and other caveats in advance — and stick to the guidelines you’re given (i.e., don’t sneak in peanuts or peanut oil if someone is sensitive to them).
Think about who is in your crowd — kids, foodies, traditionalists — and play to their tastes. It’s safest to go for well-known crowd pleasers to get those plates licked clean. When great-grandma comes, don’t serve sushi salad but rather stuffed cabbage. Unless of course, you have a really funky great-grandma.
Recipes courtesy of Quick & Kosher Meals in Minutes by Jamie Geller.
Italian Wedding Soup
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1⁄2 lb. ground beef
1⁄4 cup finely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
1⁄4 cup bread crumbs
1 large egg, beaten
1 tsp. kosher salt
1⁄2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1⁄2 cup ditalini or orzo
2 boxes (32-oz.) Manischewitz All Natural Chicken Broth
1⁄2 cup frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
In a small saute pan over medium-high heat, heat oil and saute onions for 3 to 4 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 2 minutes more. Let cool slightly.
In a medium bowl, combine onions and garlic with ground beef, parsley, bread crumbs, egg, salt and pepper. Form into meatballs 1⁄2-inch in diameter. Place in freezer for 15 minutes.
While meatballs are chilling, cook pasta according to package instructions.
In a large pot, bring broth to a boil and gently lower meatballs, one at a time, into the broth. Reduce heat to simmer and cook, uncovered, for 20 minutes, adding spinach for the last few minutes.
Add pasta. Taste and adjust salt and pepper, if needed.
Chicken with Apples
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. mustard powder
1 fresh thyme leaves
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 chicken (4 lbs.), cut into eighths
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, in 1⁄4-inch slices
1 cup fennel, in 1⁄4-inch slices
2 tart apples, unpeeled, cored and in 1⁄4-inch slices
1 cup Manischewitz Reduced Sodium All Natural Chicken Broth
Preheat oven to 350˚.
In a small bowl, combine the cinnamon, mustard, thyme, salt and pepper. Rub over the chicken.
Heat oil, over high heat, in an ovenproof saute pan that is large enough to fit all the chicken in one layer without crowding the pan. If the pan is too small, work in batches. Brown chicken pieces about 4 to 5 minutes on each side.
Transfer the chicken to a plate and set aside.
Add onions, fennel and apples to the saute pan and cook for 5 minutes, stirring to make sure they don’t burn.
Return chicken and any accumulated juices to the saute pan with onions, fennel, and apples; cook for 5 minutes.
Add broth and place pan in the oven. Continue cooking for 30 minutes.
Arrange chicken on a large platter. Surround chicken with onions, fennel and apples. Pour pan juices over top.
Known as the “Queen of Kosher” (CBS) and the “Jewish Rachael Ray” (New York Times), Jamie Geller, who grew up in the Philly suburbs, is founder and chief creative officer of the Kosher Media Network, publisher of the award-winning Joy of Kosher with Jamie Geller magazine and the JoyofKosher.com website. She’s the host of the Joy of Kosher with Jamie Geller cooking show and Joy of Israel with Jamie Geller food and travel show on JLTV. She’s also the author of the bestselling Quick & Kosher cookbook series.