American culture places an emphasis on preparing for Thanksgiving; which, last I checked, is just one meal. But, with 14 lunches and dinners to serve from Rosh Hashana to Simchat Torah, not to mention Shabbat and Hol Ha’moed meals, most Jewish cooks I know put Thanksgiving to shame.
Rosh Hashana dinner, with its family traditions and customs, brings in the holiday season. Despite being a formal occasion full of guests and fancy food, celebrating the New Year need not be intimidating or cost-prohibitive.
Here are eight simple strategies to keep costs down without sacrificing style as you prepare for one of the most elegant dinners of the year.
1. Keep it simple
With many holiday meals ahead, don’t stuff guests with unnecessary courses. I serve soup or fish, followed by an entrée and side dishes, and then dessert. Instead of serving Rosh Hashana’s symbolic foods (leek, squash, apples, pomegranates, dates, carrots, and beets) as a precursor to the meal, I incorporate them in dishes throughout the menu.
This keep costs down, minimizes leftovers, and prevents guests from leaving my house with the awful feeling of having over-eaten.
Eliminate gefilte fish and horseradish from both Rosh Hashana dinners and serve soup instead. Savings: $18
2. Bring in the season
Even though Rosh Hashana dinner is formal, splurging on brisket or roast isn’t the only way to go. Less expensive entrées, like chicken thighs and legs, become elegant main dishes when cooked with Rosh Hashana’s symbolic foods.
Forgo a 3 lb boneless rib roast in favor of 3.5 lbs of chicken. Savings: $38
With few exceptions, if you have a choice to make or to buy food, it is generally cheaper to “do it yourself.” Allocate a Sunday afternoon to make things you would normally buy, such as challah or dessert, and store in the freezer.
Too intimidated to make challah but don’t want to overspend at the bakery? Have a friend make challahs in exchange for something you enjoy making, such as soup or dessert.
Nix the bakery and make four raisin challahs. Savings: $21.20
4. Substitute with what you already have
In order to buy less, if a recipe calls for a specialty item that comes in a quantity you won’t be able to use up, omit or substitute with something already in your pantry.
One of my favorite Rosh Hashana entrées calls for various dried fruits. I use whatever I have on hand and substitute the rest with root vegetables like carrots and onions, which I am already purchasing. The dish turns out slightly different than the original but just as delicious.
If a recipe calls for prunes, use raisins, dried apricots, or something else in your pantry. Savings: $3.50
5. Double-up ingredients
If I buy special ingredients, such as pomegranate paste or flavored honey, I incorporate them in multiple dishes, which means I purchase fewer ingredients in the long run. I also plan Rosh Hashana and Sukkot menus at the same time so I can make foods for both holidays that call for similar ingredients.
From an oversized butternut squash, make side dishes and soup, eliminating the need to buy another vegetable. Savings: $4
6. Buy in bulk
Bulk purchases, especially for items like apples and honey which get used up quickly this time of year, are usually worthwhile. (If you don’t belong to a wholesale club, tag along with a friend who has membership.)
Of course, purchasing in bulk is savvy only if you have a game plan. Before you hand over your credit card to the cashier, determine how you will use the food while the flavor is still tasty. Otherwise, hold off and purchase the item at your local supermarket.
If you plan to cook with a lot of carrots, buy a 10 lb bag from a wholesale club instead of multiple 1 lb bags from the supermarket. Savings: $5.50
7. Stick with water
Eliminate soda and juice. Not only is this cheaper and healthier, but when guests fill up on sugar beverages, they have less room to eat the food you diligently prepared.
Cut out 2 bottles of soda at both Rosh Hashana dinners. Savings: $8
8. Say yes!
If guests offer to bring something, graciously accept. Besides saving time in the kitchen, it will bring down the cost of the meal.
But, more importantly, people feel good about pitching in. Start the year off right and give people the opportunity to participate in the holiday.
When your cousin offers to bring two bottles of grape juice, accept the offer. Savings: $6
Q&A with Jamie Geller and Felisa Billet:
Q: I know you are the DIY Diva, do you have a few more examples of off the shelf products we can make at home this Rosh Hashanah?
I am a big proponent of homemade challah. It’s cheaper, tastier and healthier. A few years ago, I invested in a bread machine and now it’s one of my most-used kitchen appliances. When you make challah with a bread machine, it actually takes less effort than heading to the bakery.
Making flavored honey is always fun this time of year. Blend mild-tasting honey such as clover, with fresh fruit, reconstituted dried fruit, spices or other flavorings. This also makes a great hostess gift.
When Rosh Hashana doesn’t fall on Shabbos, I like to make caramel apples with my kids on yom tov. Whether you make homemade caramel or melt candies, it is great fun.
Q: You have so many great points about making and freezing traditionally store bought items. Can you share some freezer pointers as to which types of deserts freeze best?
Cookies, cakes, bars and strudels freeze well. To eliminate freezer burn and to maintain freshness, wrap them in parchment paper and then aluminum foil and store in airtight containers or heavy-duty plastic bags.
Fruit crumbles or pies taste much better when they are fresh from the oven. To save time, sometimes I’ll make a big batch of a crumb topping and freeze that. Then, when I want to make a fruit cobbler, all I have to do is slice the fruit and sprinkle the topping I have stored in my freezer.
Q: When is buying in bulk worth it?
Non-perishables like canola oil, cooking spray, sugar, and honey are good bulk purchases because they hardly go bad.
When it comes to perishables, every family is different. The rule of thumb is to have a specific plan for how you will use the items before you buy them. By having a game plan, nothing will go to waste and the savings will add up. It also helps you be more organized.
Try these kosher recipes for Roasted Chicken and Butternut Squash!