How to Prepare for a Hanukkah Party
It doesn’t really matter what I do, Hanukah is always going to feel a little like a secondary holiday. Not only is the pressure on parents to deliver something that can try and stand up to Christmas, there is also the issue of actually having a celebration. Because it is rare that the two holiday dates coincide, so often kids are still in school when Hanukkah begins, and it is even rarer for Hanukkah to start on a weekend, so not only are you trying to have a festive meal, you are more often than not trying to make that party happen on a weeknight at the end of everyone’s full busy day. Everyone has Christmas Day off to roast a turkey or ham or giant rib roast and make all the special traditional dishes. But unless you take the day off from work, most years, you are trying to get Hanukkah on the table no different than any other night of the week.
Luckily, you can prepare most of the holiday feast in advance! Braise a brisket or short ribs the weekend before and stash in the fridge, or make up to two months in advance and freeze. They get better in the reheating anyway. Sure, latkes are great fresh out of the frying pan on a snuggly Saturday or Sunday, but feel more like a spattery chore after you have spent your day in meetings, and the cleanup can be egregious for a weeknight. Make ahead up to two months and freeze in a single layer on a sheet pan, then once frozen solid, stash in a Ziploc bag. Lay in a single layer on a rack over a sheet pan, give a light spray of canola cooking spray, and re-crisp in a 400-degree oven for 10 to 12 minutes. Serve hot with plenty of applesauce and sour cream.
Side dishes too can be either made ahead and frozen, like glazed carrots or roasted root vegetables, or made at the last minute with the help of a microwave. I take frozen petite green peas, heat in the microwave according to package directions, then stir in a combination of melted butter, sour cream, and grainy mustard to make them fancy and provide a good bit of bright pop against the richness of slow-cooked meat.
Luckily, being the holiday devoted to all things fried, dessert is the easiest. Traditional means doughnuts. Usually filled doughnuts similar to jelly doughnuts or paczki. See if there is a bakery near you making classic sufiganyot and order ahead, or just stop at whatever local doughnut place you love and pick up a variety on your way home. I always recommend buying enough to also have for Hanukah breakfast the next morning.
Unless there is a specific reason to keep things small and intimate, think about inviting family or friends over for the meal. A weeknight dinner party always feels a little decadent and holidays should be that. Do it potluck style, so no one has to bear the burden of preparing the whole thing and start a little early so that the party can wind down naturally and still get everyone in bed at a rational hour. A little bag of chocolate Hanukkah coins for each guest, available pretty much everywhere, I usually get mine at the local chain drugstore, and maybe a few dreidels in case anyone wants to play, and it won’t matter that it is a Monday night. With some advance thought and a lot of love and laughter in the house, two candles on a menorah can shine as brightly as any bedazzled Christmas tree.