Let's start with the basic question, what is Rosh Hashanah?
Rosh Hashanah celebrates the Jewish New Year. I could easily devote multiple posts to the holiday explaining the multitude of religious and cultural traditions. My family and I typically mark the occasion by attending services, but most importantly, by gathering around a table for a delicious meal. For the second year in a row, David and I hosted the first of two holiday dinners, which included both family and friends. Instead of sharing just one recipe, I want to share my thoughts on the meal as a whole, how each course worked together, and suggest which recipes are best for your next gathering.
I started thinking through the menu weeks before, accounting for my own preferences, family preferences, and dietary restrictions. Not only do David and I keep Kosher, but as a host, I attempt to take health needs into consideration. So after some thought, and a lot of changing my mind, I landed on this line up:
Yes, it's a lot of food, but what holiday meal doesn't over do it? You will also notice I only did about half of the cooking. Dinner party culture seems to have shifted in recent years, where more guests ask how they can help/what they can bring. I usually enjoy telling guests not to bring a thing, but in some instances I feel comfortable taking them up on the offer.
I did not forget about the appetizers, I am just choosing to skip over them as the grapes, mixed nuts and wine were bought ahead of time (Costco is a wonderful place). I will plug a specific wine, however, that my father-in-law brought as a gift; pomegranate wine. I usually stay away from red wine, but surprisingly enjoyed the taste, which is more akin to an apple wine; sweeter, and maintains the strong taste of the fruit.
The dinner itself felt similar to most family holiday meals you may be accustomed to, but a few specific prayers and food traditions made this one distinctly Jewish. A prominent addition to the table were the two, round challahs; customary bread served at many Jewish meals, typically braided. Google "challah" and you will notice an overwhelming number of recipes. You can't go wrong, just make sure to follow the instructions carefully.
I also served a butternut squash soup, which my mom made a few days ahead of time, froze, and reheated in our kitchen. While I do not have the original recipe, or a picture (I failed at the picture taking this time), I would recommend trying this one, which I have made before. A few tips for any butternut squash recipe: buy the pre-cubed squash if you are short on time, blend the soup with a stick blender instead of transferring it to a separate appliance, and make extra (it's even better left over).
I previously made both the kale salad and mashed cauliflower, so I knew I could easily adapt the recipes for a larger crowd. Even better, they could both be made the day before! Since I felt comfortable with the recipes, I made slight changes.
For the kale salad, I swapped the blueberries for oranges, and also swapped the craisins for pecans. When I originally tried this salad a few weeks ago, I felt it was too sweet with the fruit, craisins and dressing. The addition of the pecans provided a better balance of flavors and a great crunch.
When it came to the mashed cauliflower, I ended up creating two versions as the result of half of the first batch falling on the floor, and my worrying about not having enough. For the first batch, I opted to roast the cauliflower and garlic instead of steaming. I enjoy the enhanced flavors roasting brings out in vegetables, but I also needed a cooking method which allowed me to 4x the recipe. If you decide to try roasting, I would suggest cooking the cauliflower and garlic separately, as the garlic does not need as much time, and in my case, came too close to burning. The second batch stayed truer to the original recipe, but I added rutabaga into the mix. This also turned out well, but my husband noted the more bitter profile of the rutabaga often overpowered the subtler cauliflower.
Personally, I prefer the kale salad for a dinner crowd; the idea of mashed cauliflower still seems to disappoint mashed potato lovers.
Did I mention I totally failed at remembering to take pictures, which means there is no evidence of my cajun salmon. Oh well, feel free to just trust its ease and deliciousness. I chose this recipe because it scaled up simply without extra prep, used many ingredients already in my cabinet, and required little cooking time. Salmon can prove tricky sometimes; trying to find the perfect cooking technique. This was the first time I cooked salmon at a higher temperature (475 degrees) for a shorter amount of time (15-20 minutes). It turned out beautifully! In fact, I may permanently convert to this method.
Since this was a brand new recipe for me, I will give it a formal review:
Clarity of Instructions: ✭✭✭✭
Met Expectations: ✭✭✭✭
Each category is ranked from 1-4 stars
The cajun spices rounded out the meal with a bold kick, yet did not overpower the plate. I chose to go a little lighter on the amount of spices based on known family preferences, but in the future, will add more, as I happen to love spice. The best part about this recipe was the short cooking time, which allowed me to wait until guests arrived before putting it in the over. By the time we sat down after wine and appetizers, it was finished.
As a side note, if you like to host, or are hoping to start hosing meals more, I recommend buying a warming tray. It opens up options for how you serve food, and space in the oven.
For anyone who could manage a few more bites, dessert consisted of decaf coffee, tea, and two different honey cakes, baked by family and friends. Honey (and apple) cakes are traditional for Rosh Hashanah, so while I do not have the specific recipes from this dinner, I recommend trying these for your next Rosh Hashanah experience:
I am my toughest critic, so there are many things I will do differently next time; more spice on the salmon, roasting the garlic separately from the cauliflower, and serving a true starch. However, the real spirit of the meal comes from sitting around a table with family and friends, not from how perfectly I baked some fish.
May this new year bring peace, friendship, and opportunity to our lives and kitchens.
Walking enthusiast, kitchen experimenter, sports lover (watching, not playing), and future world traveler.
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