Here we go again.
From now through Simchas Torah, we are looking at 22 festive Shabbos and Yom Tov meals, a wonderful opportunity to bond with our nearest and dearest, to experiment with intriguing new recipes while also enjoying family favorites and to most likely eat waaaaay too much food. Isn’t that awesome?
If you haven’t started thinking about all the things you need to stock up on for the mega food-fest that is about to unfold, now is the time to get cracking. And I’m not talking about the roasts, the chicken, the fish or the endless piles of produce that you will hopefully be including in your menus. The items on my mind are the behind the scenes support staff, the essentials that will keep your life, your kitchen, your fridge, your freezer and your storage cabinets running smoothly throughout the hectic season that is about to hit. Get ready to meet your new best friends – foil pans, zip lock bags and a full supply of disposable plates, cups and cutlery.
While there is nothing new about the concept of investing a little bit of money into items that can be tossed instead of washed for the sake of convenience, over the years I have often found myself facing a motley array of miscellaneous extras for months on end after the yomim tovim and I would try to figure out creative ways to use up them up. This year as I stock up on paper, plastic and foil items to simplify my life, I am trying to think ahead so that I buy items that can be put away more efficiently while also yielding less random clutter once we get back to real life.
So what is the game plan for the upcoming yomim tovim? I’m so glad you asked!
When I was growing up, my mother used to have a black and white speckled enamel roasting pan that would come out every Friday to host the Shabbos chicken, but I confess I am far too lazy to spend all that time washing out greasy pans and, instead, have succumbed to the lure of disposables. When it comes to the kind of mass cooking we are about to embark on, it definitely pays to stock up on a large quantity of foil pans so that you don’t have to keep running out to replenish your supply. I am a big believer in identifying the two or three sizes that work best for your family and kitchen and sticking just to those. While it is true that your favorite place to buy groceries likely has a full display of pans in well over a dozen shapes and sizes gracing their shelves, most of us have limited storage space so it makes sense to go with a few basic sizes, giving you the ability to efficiently stack those same size pans in your pantry, your refrigerator and your freezer.
My favorites? 9 x 13 rectangular pans, which work well for large size kugels, cakes and main dishes and 9-inch rounds for smaller sized items. There was one year Pesach that I decided to use 9-inch square pans because they are more space efficient, but that turned out to be a complete and total disaster – not only do you have to use two hands every time you take them out of the oven or the refrigerator while one will usually suffice for a similar sized round pan, everyone here at the Hotel Eller prefers the middles of cakes and kugels and did not want to eat any of the corner pieces in anything I made.
Be sure to label everything clearly with a permanent marker so that you can tell at a glance what is in each one. If you really want to do yourself a favor, mark the contents of each on top and on the side for best visibility.
There are certain things that I always make in real pans, including roasted vegetables, cookies and challah and in those cases, I line the pans with foil before I start for easy cleanup when the job is done. (Try non-stick foil for your challahs – it is a lifesaver!) Muffins and kugelettes are another item that always get made in real pans, and I actually own mini, regular and extra large muffin pans, with some milchig, some fleishig and some pareve. All of them are non-stick but on those days when I either don’t have the time or just don’t feel like scrubbing them, I line them with foil or parchment cups, keeping the clean up time to the bare minimum.
The other area where I use a large quantity of disposables is when it comes to setting the table. With so many meals coming one after the other, I want to be able to enjoy my Yom Tov instead of spending hours in the kitchen washing dishes and there is a limit to how many items can actually fit in the dishwasher. While I used to spend a lot of time picking out different pretty paper or plastic plates for each meal, I found that I was always had extras left over and never really knew what to do with them – there were never enough for another meal and I couldn’t bring myself to set the table with non-matching plates, even during the week. Hoping to avoid those space hogging drips and drabs of clutter, I started buying everything in larger quantities in a single, neutral color and using them at every meal, livening things up by buying a variety of napkins in pretty prints and colors. While my personal favorite is clear plastic plates and letting the napkins dress up the table, this summer one of our local supermarkets had square white plates in large and small sizes on sale so I stocked up on those and am pretty sure I have enough to get me through all of the yomim tovim.
Cutlery is the one area where I still try to avoid disposables whenever I can. When it is just us and a few guests, I don’t mind washing silverware, but when we are a large crowd there is no question that I will be pulling out the plastic. If you go with disposables, make sure to get something of decent quality, even if it means paying a little more. I have spent too much time trying to get through a slice of meat with knives that are incapable of cutting and can’t think of anything more disturbing than having your fork break while you are eating and then spent the rest of your meal trying to figure out where that broken piece of plastic went so that you don’t end up eating it.
Finally, let’s spend a minute or two talking about zip lock bags. While I don’t rely on them all that heavily during the calmer times of year, they can be a lifesaver when fridge and freezer space is at a premium. Use them to stash batches of homemade cookies that you are hopefully making right now so that you are well stocked on desserts, to store batches of pre-breaded schnitzel that is waiting to be baked or fried, to hold pre-chopped ingredients for those last minute salads and to pack away your leftovers so that they take up minimal space and are easily identifiable. The uses for these guys are endless and it is worth buying them (on sale, of course) in just about every size.
Most importantly? Don’t look at those 22 upcoming meals as chores that need to be gotten through. Get everyone to pitch in and do their share and make sure to relax and enjoy these golden opportunities with your family and friends!