Holiday Meal Prep, and a Sweet & Sour Brisket


I’m not embarrassed to admit that I’ve been preparing for tonight’s holiday dinner since Sunday.  With all of the thought, shopping and kitchen labor involved, you’d think I’d be feeding at least twenty people.

Nope.

I’m only having my family (2 adults; 2 kids) and my brother.  Once an overachiever, always an overachiever.  I was that kid in high school who always over-studied for tests and never waited until the last minute—cramming was never part of my vernacular.

When I decided I was going to venture out of my comfort zone (again) and attempt to handle and cook Mom’s Sweet and Sour Brisket, I knew I’d have to make sure the other dinner hosting variables were cleared out of the way so I could solely focus on the cooking aspect.  You see, up until now, I’ve only hosted pot luck gatherings where everyone is responsible for bringing a dish (hence, relieving the burden of responsibility from the hostess). In time, I won’t require a checklist to help prepare for the dinners but, for now, the ones I put in place are beyond helpful.

Menu Planning: avoid any undo stressers

The “Jewish Judy” tab in My Judy the Foodie binder has gotten a lot of use these past few weeks. There’s no denying that Judy’s Sweet and Sour Brisket needed to be the main course.  This meat graced the table at most Friday night dinners at my grandma’s apartment. Even though my husband, a serious carnivore, claims he doesn’t actually “like” the taste of brisket, I feel obligated to cook the meat.  As a consolation prize, I’m also offering up Mom’s Rosemary Baked Chicken which has been served to accolades  around the table.  I still secretly need to be assured that at least one meat dish will turn out.

Once the main course was decided, it was easy to round out the holiday meal with other signature Jewish sides.  If you tried Mom’s Kugel Recipe from last week, you know that you can use this tasty noodle dish as a side to any main course.

It’s also ok to take some short cuts in  meal prep.  While Mom certainly has many Matzoh Ball soup recipes, I do happen to live on the same block as the world-famous Zabar’s, which boasts some of the best homemade matzoh balls ever! Zabar’s is a long-standing one-stop-shopping hub for most Jews on the Upper West Side. I predicted there would be heavy traffic in the store leading up to the holiday so I purchased any items I needed early on in the week to avoid any (additional) headaches.

Pre-holiday rush at Zabar’s—                      photo credit: Katherine Weber

House/Apartment Prep:

You better make sure you have enough flatware, plates, bar ware, baking pots, pans, etc…  This might seem obvious but, after I bought the most intimidating 4lb slab of first-cut brisket, I realized I had something to serve it in but I didn’t have anything to cook it in!

Planning out the serving dishes

I invested in the heaviest, sturdiest “dutch oven pot.”  It’s built to last a lifetime, and I joked it could even function as a bunker for my family during any threat of violence.

Meal Prep:  Map everything out to avoid any guessing:

Looking at the menu, I noticed I’d be juggling many different oven temperatures, defrost times, bake times, cool times.  I made a working timetable so I could keep track of each item’s cooking duration to be certain we’d be able to eat together as a family. I didn’t want to spend my entire night in the kitchen.  I wanted to be able to sit and enjoy the meal and conversation too.

Somehow, Mom always managed to have a nice rhythmic flow to her meals.  She allowed ample time for her guests to enjoy each course and every dish was miraculously ready at the same time her guests appeared eager for the next item.  It’s a bummer when you’re mentally ready to eat your main course and you’re stuck eating the vegetables and sides, waiting in anticipation.  I posted my crude timetable on my cabinets.  It became my beacon for the evening, giving me much-needed direction to help navigate through the various instructions for each dish.

The Dinner Blueprint

 

Be Present – Savor the Meal:

I worked hard enough in the kitchen, it’s only fair that I be present at the meal to get live feedback (whether good or bad).  I was so satisfied to have pulled off such a bountiful home-cooked dinner, I was almost oblivious to all the other nuances happening at the table (my kids arguing over the last piece of Challah, my son getting his greasy hands all over the dining room chairs).  I was really just trying to take in the moment, the company, the conversation, the food.  Before long, I knew we’d be clearing the table, washing the dishes and focusing on bedtimes and the next days’ routines.

My stove top— fully used!

I truly admire the commitment my family has made to recapture meaningful dinner times together.  Providing homemade meals for my family makes me feel like I’m not only feeding their stomachs, I’m nourishing their minds and their souls.

Table set and ready to please

 

Delicious Brisket ready to be cut(against the grain) and served

 

Do you have any tricks you use to help facilitate preparing for dinner parties?

 

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