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Hosting a Shabbat dinner is not easy, especially when you live in a bigger city and people say 'yes' when you invite them. Single people live in big cities as well, playing the odds that they will somehow end up at a Shabbat meal with their Bashert, intended spouse, right there. Hence, I will focus on feeding single people as well, when thinking about amounts, as they will show up even if you didn't invite them. So, be prepared for them.
You already know there is going to be a lot of people or leftovers. So, cook a lot. With that said, here is some cooking advice.
Cook Something Decent
You have to cook. That's all people will be talking about. Nobody cares about your kid graduating high school. They don't care. They're there for the food. That's what they're focused on. If your child graduated culinary arts college, that would be a discussion.
You don't want somebody tasting your Kugel and saying, 'Wow. This is really good. How did you make it?' And then you have to answer them with, 'I don't know. I'll have to ask Manischewitz.'
Using the mixes is fine. Everybody that makes Matzah ball soup and split pea soup, we know where you got it. They all lie. 'Family recipe'??? The family recipe of Manischewitz. The point is that you've got to put a spin on it. Cook the Manischewitz and add garlic. Then you can say, 'A dab of garlic.'
Cook A Lot
More important than what you're serving is how much. A lot is the goal. There is no greater compliment than 'they had a lot of food.' That says it all.
It makes no difference how many people are coming. The more you have on that table the more religious you are. That's the equation which determines the good religious Frum Jew. Ten pots and four tin trays on the table, you're a righteous family with a place in heaven. One pot and no tins, you're a heretic and nobody is eating off your dishware. Small plate on a bigger plate, you're a heretic. Everything should be served on the bigger plates, with bigger forks. That's the only way you can feed people correctly on Shabbat. Soup spoon? Ladle.
The real goal is leftovers. If you have no leftovers, you've failed your guests. You've also failed your family and God. Your kids will starve, as Frum people don't cook during the week. As a Frum Jew, you cook for Shabbis and leftovers.
Remember to have one decent dish. As long as you have one decent dish, mixed in the fourteen trays and pans, you're good to go. If they see a lot, that's what's important. They gravitate to that one dish and they still see a lot. Win win.
That seems to have developed into a religious cooking style. You don't look at the choolante when you let it cook for twenty hours, so don't check the kugel, meat or rice. If it gets real bad, the smoke detector will catch it.
Until choolante, I didn't realize that you can burn something when cooking it on low. As I've learned, the best policy is to use a crockpot. This way, you can overcook the food, and it's still edible and juicy, and burnt.
Make a Salad
If they're not religious, they will enjoy this. Frum Jews stick to cooked brown stuff. Non-religious people like salads. If you're stuck with the non-religious people, you can tell them the Tzimis is a religious salad. You can also tell them the Kugel is a quiche. Heretics love quiche.
Scream At the Kids
When preparing the food, yell at the children. That is the only Shabbat preparation tradition that is practiced by all Jews, no matter their denomination.
Make sure they clean the floors. Scream at them for that, even if they're scrubbing well. Yell at them for not showering at the right time. And scream at them when making the soup. It helps with the cooking process.
Tin pans. Use them for everything. As a religious community we've gotten to the point of not using other dishware. We even have a tin pan holder contraption, to make a tin pan as classy as it can get. You drop that tin pan into metal wire. Class. This way you look like a mensch for the guests.
From the oven to the table. That's how you serve. They'll notice that you're serving out of a tin pan, and they will respect your commitment to tradition. However, add the metal wire holder, and you're a classy person that cares about their ancestors.
Singles do that. It looks pathetic and it is not fun being a guest. you don't invite guests to bring the food to the meal you invited them to. You might as well ask them to eat at their place. It's pathetic. You might as well tell them you that you trust their standard of Kashrut, and you're not religious.
If a guest brings something, like a cake they baked, and you want to show you're Frum, take their cake and trash it. Truth is, they probably brought the cake to test you. To see if you are religious or not. They will respect you for throwing their cake out.
When all is said and done, it's time to put the tin pans in the fridge. Now, the kids have food for the week. If we haven't learned anything, food should never leave the tins. They should only be covered in tinfoil.
And remember to scream at the kids while cooking. It's very important to yell at the children to fulfil the tradition.
What to cook? We'll deal with that next time. For now. Just know that it has to be a lot. A lot and in tins. And a salad, just in case a heretic shows up. Baby steps in your religious growth.
Next time we shall discuss different Shabbat food groups and take out.
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That is how the punchline of a Jewish joke should look. Like you're questioning something, dealing with serious stomach issues, or giving a sermon.