Chef Laura Frankel is a noted Kosher Chef and the author of “Jewish Cooking for All Seasons and Jewish Slow Cooker Recipes” and “Clean Slate Jewish Cooking.” She is the founder of Shallots Restaurants in Chicago, Skokie and New York and she worked for Wolfgang Puck for 10 years. In this article for joyofkosher.com, she explains how to make Pesach food preparation easier:
How to plan ahead and actually enjoy the holiday!
The very notion of inviting guests for Passover instills terror in many. The dishes, the chaos, the DISHES, the food, the noise…and did I mention the amount of dishes? And for others, they glide through the holiday with barely a feather ruffled. For both the holiday challenged and the holiday pro, here are some tips to help you sail through the Chag and keep both your sanity and smile intact.
MENU PLANNING GUIDE
1. Consider the style of your dinner.
Do you sit on the floor on pillows wearing authentic ancient garb or do you wear your best dress-up clothing? Is the table set with china or do you do disposables?
How formal or informal you set the table and dress sets the tone for the whole event. Make sure you are consistent and do tell your guests. (I have been to a Seder where everyone dressed like they were ready to flee, complete with backpacks loaded with favorite treasures and running clothes, and a Seder where everyone sat on the floor wearing robes in a makeshift tent—you would want to be told that in advance!)
Plan your food to be in the spirit of the event. Formal table settings and formal clothes dictate that the menu will be formal as well.
2. Plan for hot and cold.
Serve some menu items that are hot and some at room temperature or cold.
Unless you have a very large kitchen and staff to run it, you will need to have dishes that can be pre-plated and ready to go, while other, fussier dishes can be labored over while guests eat.
3. Introduce a few new items to the menu
Do this while having at least 1 or 2 familiar dishes. Try a new soup, salad, or side while still serving everyone’s favorite entree or dessert. Creating new favorites is fun and exciting. Paying respect to a family heirloom recipe keeps memories alive. I like to mix it up and play with new produce while generally keeping my mains familiar.
4. Prep ahead.
Take advantage of menu items that can be prepared ahead of time. Go ahead and make the soup and freeze it. Roast a week’s worth of beets and keep them marinating in the fridge. Brisket gets better after a few days as do most braised dishes.
5. Get the family involved.
There are tasks that can be performed by most members of the household. Allowing everyone to do some prep work gets them excited and they will take pride in the meal.
6. Make lists.
When I am planning a large intricate meal, I make lists. In fact, my lists have lists! I have ingredients lists and prep lists for each day leading up to the dinner. I find I stay calmer knowing I have a plan, and then I make sure to stick to it. Follow our Make Your Shopping List Plan.
7. Plan your menu to be seasonal and use your ingredients in multiple ways.
Keep all your ingredients in the same season. If strawberries are in season where you live, add strawberries to your salad one night and to a dessert on another night. Sautéed mushrooms are a delicious garnish for braised chicken one night and a great add-in for a kugel on another. Make your ingredients multitask and your food will be exciting and creative. Seasonal ingredients are typically better priced and always taste better. I live in the midwest and though I am anxious for berries, I know that they are expensive and will taste flat. So, I plan accordingly.
8. Imagine the food and the way it will look cooked.
Have a road map in your head of the way food will look and taste. Make sure the size of all the dishes will look good together and that there is textural interest. A giant baked potato next to petit meatballs doesn’t look balanced and doesn’t have any textural change. A scaled-down baked fingerling potato topped with crispy shallots next to the same meatballs looks better and has some textural change.
9. Make sure the flavors flow in your menu.
A well-written restaurant menu is a work of art. A chef that can write a seamless menu is a sought after person indeed.
The trick to writing a menu where flavors flow and do not distract or clash is to keep food and flavors within the same genre. If you are going Moroccan with your entree, stay with those flavor profiles for the whole menu. Avoid clashing flavors like adding other dishes with heavy red wine sauces, which are not typical of Moroccan food. You get the idea, pair your flavors in the same ethnic profiles and your meal will be harmonious.
10. Have fun at your own party.
Your guests can sense when you are not having fun. To throw a great Seder, you need to enjoy it as well. If something doesn’t go well in the kitchen, platter the food and garnish as best as you can and smile. Only you knew what it was supposed to taste like.
+ MENU PLANNER