Expert Tips for First-Time Hosts

festive apple for Rosh Hashana on fine chinaWith a round of Jewish holidays coming up, a lot of readers may be expecting a crowd. Smadar Saltun interviewed two caterers, Ronit Bronfman of Mazal Taleh and Anat van der Walt of Sodexo, about how to entertain a large number of people while still enjoying yourself.

Van der Walt points out that when cooking for 15-30 as opposed to 3-4, the differences are not only in scale. You have to make sure that you have enough space and equipment to cook, store and heat up your meal, because you don’t want to spend time fussing in the kitchen. Everything should be ready in advance. Here are their tips:

  • Stick to a few items, or you”ll end up without enough room in the oven or the stove. Van der Walt suggests one appetizer or soup, two or three main courses, two starches, one or two cooked vegetables, and one raw salad.
  • Choose items with long cooking times so they can stay on the stove without supervision. Items like steak, that cook quickly but are only tasty when served immediately, don’t work for a crowd. She suggests vegetable stews, roast beef, or chicken in a ceramic pot because they don’t require extra care and look impressive. My suggestions are:
  • Quantities: Van der Valt runs a catering business so she calculates weight more closely than the average home chef. She recommends 500-600 grams of food per person: 200-250 for the main course, 100 for the first course, 150 for the starch and 100 grams of raw or cooked vegetables. On Rosh Hashanah, there are other items on the table like challah, apples, honey and fruit. An ounce is roughly 30 grams, and a pound is about450 grams.
  • Cooking: Just like on the cooking shows, van der Valt recommends preparing and measuring all of the vegetables in advance. Then light up the oven or stove and start cooking.
  • Serving tips: Ronit Bronfman, owner of “Mazal Taleh”, offers serving tips for each course:
    • Serve the first course from small bowls waiting at the table. She suggests small servings of cold fish, vegetables, or meat. I also like to have something for the guests to eat immediately.
    • The second, fish course should be served in individual dishes with some depth, so the fish will hold the flavor of the sauce.
    • The third, main course should be served centrally, in two or three serving dishes. If the dishes are too large or heavy, guests will have trouble passing them around. Serving forks and spoons should be large and comfortable to hold, so food won’t spill on its way to the plate.
    • For dessert, Bronfman recommends a buffet on a separate table, with a few different types of cakes, petit fours, and chocolates. This can be prepared in advance, along with a variety of attractive utensils.

For many more ideas, check out Rosh Hashanah Recipes and Cooking Tips. For more tips on cooking for a crowd, check out my series about my son’s weekend bar mitzvah with 35 guests.

More tips on entertaining:
Ten Things You Should Know about Freezing for a Crowd

Preparing for a Holiday Cooking Session

Simple and Creative Ways to Garnish Food


How to Cook for a Family with a New Baby

A friend of mine gave birth recently, and a few families in the community made meals for her. While it’s possible to order out nowadays, home-cooked meals are often tastier and more nutritious. Providing meals shows the family that they are cared for, and it’s a wonderful way to welcome the baby to the neighborhood. I’ll never forget the friend that called me up every week. starting in my last month of a difficult pregnancy, asking what she could cook for Sabbath dinner.

Here are some tips for making meals for families who have just given birth.

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The first sourdough bread I made was from  Miriam Kresh’s recipe at Israeli Kitchen. Since then I’ve made it numerous times, especially when I am hosting a meeting or party. I’ve recently made some healthy adjustments including cutting out sugar and substituting olive oil. I often add nuts, and substitute spelt for some of the […]

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A few months ago, the metal chopping blade for my Magimix 5100 food processor overheated and melted for the second time. The first time, I salvaged the machine. Since I was generally happy with the machine, already my second, and the others on the market did not appear to be higher quality, I decided to […]

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In my post, Why You Should Finish Everything on Your Plate, I explain why scraping the last bits of food from the dish is more than just about saving money. A cleaner plate means less time picking out bits from the filters in your sink and dishwasher, and saves soap and water when washing. I don’t think we should teach kids to finish their food when they aren’t hungry, but we should train them to take a little less than they think they will eat until they get better at estimating quantities.

We deal with food remains when cooking and baking too: Bowls, measuring cups, jars and bottles with remnants of food. Here are my favorite techniques for getting that last bit into your recipe.

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Summer vacation is here and I am always looking out for fun activities. Yosefa called yesterday and suggested we do a baking project with the kids: pretzels! This recipe calls for conventional yeast but when I have more time I will attempt to make it with sourdough. The kids enjoyed kneading the dough and molding […]

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I don’t usually cook chicken during the week but I was in a rush one day last week and had a fresh whole chicken on hand. This came out so good I had to share! The sage and the black lentils lifted the chicken onto a whole different plane. If you’ve never had black lentils, […]

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The Story of the Melted Food Processor

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If you can love an inanimate object, then I love my Magimix food processor. Intensely. It’s a useful, durable, well-designed machine.  As Norene Gilletz wrote in her classic book, The Pleasures of Your Food Processor, the virtue of a quality processor is its ability to stop when it gets overheated.  On lower-quality machines, the motor […]

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How to Spot Insect Infestation in Dried Beans with Pictures

whole soaked bean with insect hole

A few days ago, I wrote about the reasons that beans may not get hard after cooking. Today I’ll address a different issue that also relates to beans that may have not been stored carefully: infestation. To avoid problems of infestation of grains and legumes, first follow the suggestions in my earlier post on how […]

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