Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Cooking for Holidays – Survival Techniques

[Note to non-Jewish readers: Some of what follows will apply to specific limitations that apply to preparation of foods on Jewish holidays (where the housewife often is using only one small flame, as she can’t turn it off once lit, until the holiday is over). So if something sounds “like French”, ignore it. MOST of this article applies to any occasion where you are planning on having several guest for a few meals.]

Cooking for the holidays, especially if they follow in rapid succession, one after the other (which actually, is not the case this year, for those living in Israel), can be daunting. Here are a few survival hints:

First Survival Tool: Planning
Taking the time to plan in advance can save you time later, when you really need it. You want to spend the last few days cooking, not trying to figure out what to cook, nor buying ingredients you forgot.
Sit down (this can be done weeks in advance) and plan what you are cooking for the holidays, what you need to buy, etc.
1) Plan what foods you want to serve for each meal, plus extras like cake, fresh fruit, tea concentrate, etc. Avoid too many fried foods at one meal (fried fish and fried chicken should NOT go together), and consider lighter side dishes (salads, boiled or steamed vegetables) with fried chicken or fish. Leave the heavier side dishes (if you want to make them at all....) for a meal where the main protein dish is baked or grilled.
Another thing to watch out for is repetitions: you don’t want to serve mashed potatoes as a side dish one meal (or one day)(or even possibly one week) after another. Try to serve different vegetables. Everyone knows that you can serve rice, potatoes, and kugels. Consider alternatives like sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and eggplant, or cold salads with noodles and/or corn.
2) One you have your menu chosen, check it for feasibility. For a holiday that does not fall on shabbas, are you expecting yourself to cook three dishes yom tov (the holiday) morning on the tiny-weenie fire you have burning? If so, either your meal will be VERY late, or you will have a very exhausting holiday. Consider cooking some of the things in advance, and reheating them on the holiday. Also check that you do not have too many new and intricate dishes planned to cook for any one holiday. Yes, you can exhaust yourself cooking ten different elaborate dishes.... or you can cook one or two elegant dishes, and keep the rest a bit more simpler. Sometimes a simple addition of nuts to a salad, a nice garnish with a rare fruit, etc, will give your dish the “special” look you want without working yourself to the bone.
3) Another good hint, if you have two days of yom tov (holiday) in a row: Consider two alternative menus for the last main meal. One is to be used if your food from previous meals were mostly consumed, and another if you have a lot of leftovers. For example, You might plan to have pot roast the second morning, but an option to make chicken salad served on lettuce, if you have a lot of leftovers. Leftover mashed potatoes can become fried latkes (add in some dill, too), which can be spruced up with a bit of applesauce or red pepper strips on the side. This way maybe you can save that beef for a different day, and not be left with tons of leftovers the next day, after everyone else has gone home.
4) Now that you REALLY have finalized your menu, go over it carefully, noting what ingredients you need. Look for “special” ingredients you may need to go somewhere specific to buy, or that you usually don’t have on hand, as well as the amount of staples like eggs, oil, margarine, flour , salt, sugar. You want to buy everything you need in advance so that you are not flourless when you want to start your bread dough at 6 AM, and not short of eggs in the middle of the holiday. Then, go over the list again for vegetables and fruit, noting which vegetables you need for which meals. This list helps you not only in buying, but also in cooking. (“Do I have enough red pepper to add some extra here? No- I see I need for the Chinese vegetables and the baked salmon....”.)
Here is a BRIEF example:

5) Last part of planning is to note on your calander/ list of things to do WHEN you plan to defrost/cook each item. Sometimes you can combine cooking, saving time:
An (abridged) example:

Second Survival Tool: Take Care of Mommy
1) Try to do in advance what you can, whether it is cooking cakes, picking up that medicine you need on the day before the holiday, laundry, polishing silver, etc. (Even writing your blog and post-dating it!)
2) Make a good healthy lunch (vegetable soup) for the day you are cooking. Don’t snack on cakes, nor starve yourself.
3) If you didn’t get enough sleep the night before, nap an hour on the cooking day. You will get more done in the end, having more strength and stamina
5) On you main cooking day (at least) wear comfortable clothing and good supportive shoes
6) Put a happy lively music tape on in the kitchen as you work
7) Sit down (or lie down) 5 minutes every hour with your legs up.
8) Take five minutes to set any small children up with something to do, like drawing holiday pictures (you can give them stickers to add on), etc. Happy busy kids won’t (hopefully) be pestering you nor fighting endlessly with their sibling. Maybe reward an older sibling to supervise. If you want to involve them in the cooking, it is advisable to do so on earlier, less pressured days. If you want on the high-pressured days, probably it is best to limit their help to one item, or have each child join you alone for his part of the cooking.



mother in israel said...

Good ideas! I like yom tov on a weekday, but am quite happy to have the last of them be on Shabbat.
Have you seen my new site, CookingManager.Com?

Ilana said...

One more suggestion: Write everything down. Menu, shopping list, which recipes worked well, etc. It will save you a lot of time next year.

rutimizrachi said...

Nice post! I especially appreciate the taking care of mommy part. Too often we forget that "if mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy."

Ilana said...

Another tip: we have several friends with dietary restrictions. This one avoids wheat and sugar, that one avoids legumes, and another one avoids nightshades, and still another avoids dairy. I could never remember who could eat which kind of pepper and whether a particular guest couldn't eat any gluten or just wheat, etc. I wrote it all down in a computer file and printed it up, and now I don't have to remember. I keep the list with my recipes. It's great!