So the holiday dinner is at your place this year? Whether you're just bringing a friend from synagogue or your whole extended family is invited, cooking the holiday meal is a big production. But with just a little planning and some helpful tips, you can do it! Planning the Rosh Hashana meal isn't as complicated as it may seem at first, especially when you realize that the more thought you give to the preparation work and the meal, the easier it will be. The key is to do as much work as possible ahead of time. To help you create a reduced-stress dinner, here are some great tips for making a memorable holiday meal for both you and your guests:
Compose your menu in advance to give yourself plenty of time to obtain any hard-to-find ingredients.
Take your menu and put the different tasks and preparation steps into a to-do list format. This will prevent you from forgetting anything along the way.
Make a big list of non-perishable items and head to the grocery store a week in advance. Most items, with the exception of salad greens and some fruit, will keep for a week, and you will avoid the long queues of the last-minute crowd. Pick up items that won't keep two days before the meal.
If you are trying a new recipe, now is the time to test it out. You don't want a recipe that isn't quite as tasty as it sounded, or that doesn't quite cooperate like the instructions said it should.
Clean out as much of the refrigerator as possible and free up lots of shelf space about one week ahead. The more free space you have in the fridge, the more you can fill it with food prepared ahead of time, leaving you less to do the day of the meal.
Peel and cut all vegetables two days before. Carrots and potatoes can be stored in ice water in the fridge; onions, celery and other vegetables must be kept dry and wrapped well in plastic wrap or zipper seal bags.
Many baked items freeze quite well when tightly sealed with plastic wrap. Prepare cookie dough and bake cakes in advance, wrap them tightly and put them in the freezer. Bake your pies and wrap tightly in plastic wrap as well. The morning of the holiday, pull out your cakes and decorate as needed, allowing them to defrost throughout the day.
Make as many dishes as you can the day before. Start marinating and seasoning your meat of choice for the meal (excluding seafood).
A place at the table
Setting the table is not a frightening task. Traditional rules of etiquette have been adapted to accommodate modern lifestyles and customs. Use only the utensils and plates that are functional and that fit the number of courses you plan to serve (see diagram above).
1. Salad plate (can be placed in the center of the dinner plate or to the left of the dinner napkin)
2. Napkin (can also be placed in the center of the dinner plate)
3. Salad fork (the smaller-sized fork)
4. Dinner fork
5. Dinner plate
6. Dinner knife
8. Soup spoon (only if you're serving soup)
9. Bread and butter plate (optional but nice to have)
10. Water glass (usually placed at the tip of the knife)
11. Wine glass
As far as decorations go, you can have your children collect colorful leaves and pine cones for table decorations while a few simple and elegant touches can really impress your guests.
Prepare a list of everyone who's coming and make sweet place cards by wrapping candies in sheer fabric sacks or cellophane. Tie each with ribbon and add a little name card for each person's spot at the dinner table.
Remember: When you have everything under control, you never have to worry about what is going to happen next!