FeedBurner makes it easy to receive content updates in My Yahoo!, Newsgator, Bloglines, and other news readers.
The holiday season is sort of a strange time for me. Like many American Jews, I grew up celebrating both Christmas and Hanukkah. When I decided to firmly embrace my Jewish side, I felt like I had to give up Christmas and some of the secular joys of the holiday season. To complicate matters, Christmas reminds me terribly of my mother who passed away when I was sixteen, and so while it is a connection to her, it is a bittersweet memory.
My mom really got into holidays – all holidays – whether it was Halloween, Thanksgiving or Christmas, she was ready with some tacky earrings, decorative salt shakers and surely an ugly sweater or two as well. She loved Christmas music, and from early December through New Year’s we would be subjected to a rotation of possibly the two worst Christmas albums ever made: Johnny Matthis and Amy Grant. I cringe just thinking about those CDs of hers.
Nevertheless, the season is bittersweet as I balance my desire to connect to these memories of my mother, participate in some kind of festive activities while maintaining the strong Jewish identity of my family. I admittedly tread a fine line: baking holiday cookies every year for my husband’s office, (though not in red or green or Santa shapes) listening to The Nutcracker with my daughter and combining the flavors or chocolate and peppermint in various forms to pay homage to the season. After all, should Christians really get to drink all the skinny peppermint mochas at Starbucks!?
Two years ago I started making a chocolate peppermint bundt cake that my husband and I absolutely adored. And while I have been whipping up lots of batches of peppermint hot cocoa for my little one, I wanted to take these flavors to the next level by adding them to, what else: challah.
What makes this challah so special is not only the deep dark chocolate dough, or the melty,chocolate chips inside, but also the super gooey marshmallows dotting the top. When my daughter spotted the finished product her eyes lit up and she wanted to break into the chocolaty masterpiece right away. Who am I to say no, especially when it makes for such an adorable picture. And yes, she is wearing her ballet costume because she had been practicing her Nutcracker dance moves.
It may not be overtly Christmas-y, nor is it exactly what I did with my mother. But somehow creating something new, that touches upon the joy and spirit of the holiday season, brings me comfort, connects me to my past and allows me to create new memories for my family.
In honor of Hanukkah beginning earlier this week, and an all-around appreciation for starch and fried things, Manhattan-based event planning company Great Performances hosted its annual Latke Fest, touted as the “only festival celebrating latkes in NYC!” This year marks the sixth time well-known restaurants throughout the city came to compete for the title of the ultimate latke. The event also benefits The Sylvia Center, with each year’s proceeds supporting the Center’s mission to inspire healthy eating and cooking amongst young people and their families. (Yes, yes, there’s a slight irony of frying potatoes in gallons of oil to in effect promote good food choices but I’m pretty sure nobody is complaining.) I had never attended before, and I thought there was logically only one person to ask to come with me: Shannon.
“I know this is Latke Fest but…I can’t eat any more latkes. I have been eating, and testing and frying latkes since October!” This is how Shannon greeted me when we met in front of the Metropolitan Pavilion. About 2.5 seconds later, we were both at The Plaza Hotel’s table enjoying latkes with red wine braised oxtail, horseradish sunchoke and crispy kale. And so our tour-de-latke began.
It was a packed house (albeit with ample space to move around), of people and potatoes, and, as one sign warned, also some pork. Chefs and their culinary accomplices together dished over twenty different kinds of potato pancakes. Before we had walked two feet to the next station, we had already made some observations.
First, the idea of a “crispy latke” might be a challenge in this cooking/serving environment. More often than not we ate delicious but let’s call them “softer” pancakes. Second, we were immediately perplexed by the presence of forks. But looking around the room it was evident that there were two kinds of Latke Fest people: those who used forks, and those who, well, just shoved the latkes in their mouths. We were definitely “shovers.”
Which brings me to another thought shared by Shannon: things seemed rather civilized. Nobody was elbowing each other or plowing through the crowd to get to a table like when it’s schmorg time at a bar mitzvah. Shannon was sure we would witness at least one semi-brawl over a station’s last latke.
Or, as it turns out, a donut. Or babka. Or a biyali. There were lots of latkes, but also other foods and beverages. Final observation: the grand tradition of offering tangential Jewish foods at the same time in one place was proudly being kept alive here: “Welcome to Latke Fest, have a biyali!” (Dough brought big puffy strawberry-cheesecake and passion fruit filled “sufganiyot;” there was shiny gooey babka from Bread’s Bakery; and a table of beautiful bialys and bread shaped like menorahs from Hot Bread Kitchen.)
Though, to be fair, as Shannon pointed out, isn’t everyone always in the mood for babka? And, I would add, even a donut? In anticipation of being in such a mood later that evening, we had a very brief but serious discussion about trying to sneak extra donuts into our bags. For our husbands. Definitely for our husbands, and definitely not for us (yeah, for us).
I can’t imagine we were the only ones who tried this. But what I also would have liked to smuggle to the outside world was another of Print’s sweet potato & chestnut latke in duck fat. I actively do not like chestnuts, but various layers of fat probably helped the cause. For Shannon, it was Shelsky’s sweet potato and schmaltz-fried latkes with chopped liver that made all her latke dreams come true.
After at least five more latkes (most of them not bite size), two cocktails, and several instagram photos we were stuffed. Drunk off oil and carbohydrates. Latke Fest, a success? As we made our way out of the Pavilion, Shannon said “I should have worn my maternity jeans…” So I think that means, yes, a successful evening.
Latke Fest Epilogue:
The official winners were coincidentally also some of our favorites: both Print and Shelsky’s took home wins for their latkes, Judges and People’s Choice respectively. (Mae Mae Cafe also tied for Judge’s Choice).
An honorable mention that your kosher bubby might not approve of: Mokbar’s pork latke with kimchi crema. The cool spicy cabbage was super nice against the perfectly crisp potato.
The pleasant surprise of the evening: Benchmark’s French onion soup latke with gruyere, Beef gelée & beef carpaccio. It was one of the last latkes we tried and was also one of the least appealing latkes. Nevertheless we were both wowed by the flavor despite our initial hesitation over the beef gelée & beef carpaccio. It truly tasted like a bite of french onion soup.
I have long considered myself somewhat a latke expert, with several varieties under my belt, and never a single latke leftover when serving to my friends and family. That is until I had the chance to spend time with Michelin Star Chef Bill Telepan and Pastry Chef Larissa Raphael of the acclaimed New York City restaurant Telepan last week.
Chef Bill Telepan isn’t Jewish, though his latkes might indicate otherwise. In truth, Bill grew up in suburban New Jersey eating potato pancakes every holiday season prepared by his Hungarian mother. He carries this tradition on with his own family, serving up a big Christmas breakfast of eggs, bacon, pancakes and, what else, latkes.
But he has also been serving up latkes at his restaurant for nearly ten years, and even won an award for his latkes at the Annual Latke Festival in New York City several years ago. He likes serving them two ways: plain with sour cream and homemade applesauce, or as an appetizer with smoked salmon and creme fraiche (a personal favorite).
So what can a Michelin Star chef teach a nice Jewish girl about frying latkes? Well, a lot. And it turns out I had been making a couple of mistakes.
Bill shared that you want to keep the natural potato starch in the mix, but also need to remove excess liquid. After mixing all the latke ingredients, he allows the mix to sit around 5-10 minutes. Then he drains it, mixes the eggs with the leftover potato starch, and adds that back into the potatoes.
Don’t squeeze out too much liquid: I had been squeezing out the liquid from my latke each time I formed a patty, but Bill told me you don’t want to do that, because then the latkes will be dry. Instead, lightly form a patty using your hands or a tablespoon to keep the moisture in, creating a fluffier and creamier latke.
Onion is key for Bill, who uses a ratio of 1 small onion to every 1 ½ lbs of russet potatoes. When I tried out this ratio over the weekend, my dad immediately said “wow, great onion flavor” so I guess Bill is really on to something.
Another key element is adding enough salt, both in the mix of the latkes, and then a small sprinkle after they come out of the hot oil. While 2 tsp of salt for 1 ½ lbs of potatoes may seem like a lot, Bill pointed out that potatoes really absorb the salt and need a little extra to bring out the flavor.
In my time at the restaurant I also had the chance to spend time with Pastry Chef Larissa Raphael, who has been serving up some of New York City’s best desserts for years, who decided to try her hand at serving Hanukkah jelly donuts this year for the first time.
You have probably had a jelly donut around Hanukkah time. And they are fine, I mean what is bad about fried dough. But what I loved about Larissa’s Hanukkah donuts is the balance of rich chocolate ganache and raspberry jam filling paired with delightfully light, bite-sized donut “holes.” After all eating several small donuts is way more fun than trying to stuff one enormous powder-sugar covered donut into your mouth.
If making donuts from scratch seems like a daunting task, Larissa shared that you can actually allow the dough to rise overnight in the fridge, a helpful tip for the busy home baker. No fancy oil for this frying: just plain old vegetable oil.
So now you can enjoy Michelin Star quality latkes and Hanukkah donuts all from the comfort of your own home.
Latkes and Hanukkah donuts will be available at Telepan from December 16th to 24th and are available both for take-out and in-house dining. Donuts will only be available for the dinner menu.
Chef Bill Telepan’s Potato Latkes, Yield: 6 latkes
1 ½ lbs of Idaho (russet) potatoes
1 small onion
2 Tbsp flour
2 tsp salt
Using the large hole on a box grater, grate potatoes and the onions into a mixing bowl.
Squeeze the grated potatoes and onion and save the water from the potatoes. After the water from the potatoes has settled, pour off the water and save the starch which settled to the bottom.
Beat the eggs and add them to the starch and combine well. Add the flour and salt and combine all.
Pan fry in a sauté pan in a generous amount of vegetable oil until golden brown and crispy on the outside, and cooking through on the inside.
Loaded baked potatoes have always intrigued me. There are tons of vegetarian versions to enjoy, but there is something about the classic version that always captured my attention: steaming hot with melted cheddar cheese, a big dollop of sour cream, and of course, crispy bacon on top.
So I decided to take the plunge, and turn my affection-from-afar for the loaded baked potato into a latke version. The classic potato latke got a makeover with some grated cheddar cheese and scallions, and then I topped it all with tangy sour cream, more scallions and bacon bits. Ok everyone, don’t get your panties in a twist. Not real bacon: the fake kind they sell in the salad dressing aisle.
Of course, what could be bad about this combination of ingredients? Pretty much nothing.
An unexpected surprise of this recipe? The red and green from the scallions and bacon bits create a little Chrismukkah action. So for those of you who might be from interfaith families, or just like getting into the red and green holiday spirit, this recipe has your name all over it.
What do Jews do on Christmas? Go to the movies and eat Chinese food of course. Which is why Soy Vay, a sauce company started by a Jewish boy and a Chinese girl, is offering the ultimate gift package to help you cook your own Chinese cuisine this Christmas Eve. And we are so excited that we get to give away gift packages to 10 lucky winners.
The gift package includes:
-$50 grocery delivery gift card
-$25 Netflix gift card
-Soy Vay products: Veri Veri Teriyaki, Island Teriyaki, and Hoisin Garlic
-Soy Vay recipe cards: Veri Veri Teriyaki Saucy Vegetable Chow Mein, Island Teriyaki Mango Chicken, and Hoisin Garlic Beef and Asparagus Stir-fry
-Decorations for the Christmas Eve parties including paper lanterns, chopsticks, and toys/games (Mahjong and Dreidel)
But wait, there’s more! The 10 winners are then encouraged to host a Soy Vay ShalomLomein house parties where they prepare their chosen Soy Vay dish for their family and friends and post photos via social media channels, using the Soy Vay hashtag #ShalomLomein on Wednesday, December 24 (that would be Christmas Eve). All the winners will also be automatically entered to win a grand prize grand–a $100 gift card for a cooking class or personal chef.
So, are you ready to get cooking? To enter, fill out the form below and we’ll choose 10 winners next Tuesday, December 16th. Good luck!
Hanukkah would have to be my favorite time of year. I was born on the fifth night and I even got married on my birthday! No, I don’t usually get three presents, but I always felt lucky to be surrounded by so much mazal on my wedding day.
With so much to celebrate during the holiday I try to switch things up during all the frying. There’s only so many latkes and jelly donuts you can eat (ok, maybe not). Fried zucchini parmesan chips have become a family favorite, so this year, I decided to go sweet with a different type of fried veggie: delicata squash.
Delicata squash is such an easy squash to prepare because the peel is edible, so you can just slice and bake – or fry! To take the squash flavor a step further, I decided to make a pumpkin beer batter and I finish it off with a Greek yogurt dipping sauce, to honor the Hanukkah miracle, and the tradition of eating dairy during the holiday. I love how they look just like donuts, but you get to without quite as much guilt because, after all, you’re really getting in a serving of veggies.
Ok guys, it’s go time. Hanukkah starts next Tuesday December 16th, so besides the latke frying and sufaniyot scarfing, better stock up on some gifts for your loved ones. And like always, we want to help with some of our top holiday picks.
The cookbook hoarders in your life will covet a copy of Jewish Soul Food: From Minsk To Marrakesh, by Janna Gur or Baking Chez Moi: Recipes from My Paris Home to Your Home Anywhere, by Dorie Greenspan.
Donuts were never really my thing. That is, until I was pregnant a few years ago and my husband brought me to New York City’s famous Doughnut Plant where I sampled several amazing flavors, including their peanut butter & jelly variety. I was in love, and it wasn’t just the pregnancy hormones.
Check out my elated face.
So this year when I was thinking about something fun and sweet to make for Hanukkah, I knew I wanted to try my hand at making an Israeli-style sufganiya, but with a classic American flavor pairing. After all, who doesn’t love peanut butter and jelly?! And most importantly, I love it, and I loved making these donuts. They were so delicious I might have eaten two. (I did).
If you have a peanut allergy in your family, you can swap out the peanut butter for almond butter, cashew butter or even sunflower butter. Instead of adding chopped peanuts to the top, add chopped salted almonds or cashews.
There’s just something about comfort food that always gets me excited to eat. Give me some mac n’ cheese, tuna casserole or a grilled cheese sandwich and I am good to go. Can you tell that I love dairy? Hanukkah, which is traditionally celebrated with oily and cheesy foods, really is the perfect holiday for me!
On Hanukkah we eat foods fried in oil to symbolize the oil that lasted eight days when the Maccabees rededicated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem after their victory over the Greeks. The dairy is to celebrate Judith’s victory when she saved her village from the Babylonians. Basically, she served the General of the Babylonian army a basket of wine and salty cheese (the salt made him thirsty and got him very drunk). When he passed out, she beheaded him and scared away his army. It’s a bit graphic but definitely worth celebrating!
So now let’s get back to my comfort food, which really does tie in to Hanukkah beautifully. I decided that what this holiday really needed was a crispy latke fried in oil then sandwiched together with cheese. Sounds good, right?!? Jewish-American comfort food taken to the max.
What do we love as much as Jewish food?
a) edible gifts
b) free cookbooks
c) Hanukkah presents
d) all of the above
For our Hanukkah 2014 giveaway we’re celebrating in three’s! For our grand prize winners, we’re teaming up with Soom Foods, a great new 3-sister kosher tahini startup, to share 3 delicious chocolate-sesame tahini sample packs with our readers.