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Archive for Holidays & Occasions

TIP OF THE DAY: Potato Latkes, Root Vegetable Latkes

The Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah, begins tonight, and we’re having latkes.

Potato latkes are a Chanukah tradition*, but they are enjoyed year-round.
 
 
THE HISTORY OF LATKES

The popular potato latkes of European Jewish cuisine descend from Sicilian ricotta pancakes that appeared in the Middle Ages. They traveled north to Rome, where the Jewry called them cassola.

Here’s a recipe for ricotta latkes. Traditionally sweetened, you can make a savory version with herbs instead of sugar.

Potato latkes (meaning “fried cakes,” i.e. pancakes, in Yiddish) are an Ashkenazi invention that gained popularity in Eastern Europe during the mid 1800s. The Hebrew word, leviva, is found in the Book of Samuel.

While the ricotta pancakes, a cousin to cheese blintzes are delicious, our bet is that more people would rather have fried potatoes!

Here’s a longer history of latkes.
 
 
MODERN LATKES

For centuries, potato latkes were the rule. Toward the end of the 20th century, cooks went so far as to make sweet potato latkes.

Then, anything was possible: latkes from beets, carrots, celery root, parsnips…. If it’s a root vegetable, it can be turned into latke. You can also use non-root vegetables, like summer and winter squash.

Food trivia: Potatoes themselves are not root vegetables, but stem vegetables. They grow on underground stems, called stolons.

Potato tubers are actually thickened stems: They have buds that sprout stems and leaves; roots don’t. Here’s more about it.
 
 
HOW TO ENJOY LATKES

  • You can use sweet potatoes or purple potatoes—anything you can grate.
  • You can turn latkes into a main course with the addition of a protein: from sliced steak to fried chicken (the Jewish chicken and waffles) to pickled herring or smoked fish.
  • You can serve it as a salad course, atop a plate of mesclun.
  • You can provide three or four different toppings.
  • You can serve mini-latkes with a beer or glass of wine.
  • Latkes don’t have to be round or oval. If you have pancake or egg molds, make whatever shape you have: diamonds, flowers, hearts, stars, etc.

    Don’t use anything with detail (Mickey Mouse ears, animals, etc.), since the latke batter is chunky, not smooth like pancakes or an egg.

  • Most importantly, you can make latkes any day of the year. Think of them as you would hashed browns.
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    LATKE GARNISHES

    You can serve more than one topping or garnish. Our mom always served sour cream and her homemade applesauce, as did her mom. (For Rosh Hashanah, the latkes accompanied roast chicken; for Chanukah, a brisket.)

    We improved on her toppings, by adding a hit of nutmeg to the applesauce and minced chives, and separately, horseradish, to the sour cream.

    While applesauce and sour cream are perfect latke partner, this is a new century. Try fusion seasonings, go crazy (within reason) with toppings like cardamom applesauce, curried Greek yogurt or 3-herb sour cream.

    Some ideas:

       

    Potato Latkes
    [1] Classic potato latkes with sour cream, enhanced with dill. Here’s the recipe from Najwa Kronfel of Delicious Shots.

    Potato Latkes
    [2] Latkes, modernized with Dijon mustard (photo courtesy Maille).

    Potato Latkes

    [3] Latkes made with scallions instead of conventional yellow onions (photo courtesy Shaya | New Orleans).

  • Dairy: crème fraîche, herbed goat cheese or ricotta, Greek yogurt, sour cream with chives, dill or scallions
  • Fish and seafood: caviar/roe, herring in cream sauce, salmon pastrami, smoked salmon, smoked sturgeon, smoked whitefish
  • Fruit sauce: chutney, cranberry sauce, flavored applesauce
  • Gourmet: smoked salmon and salmon caviar (or other roe) with crème fraîche or dilled sour cream
  • Poached egg: for a main or first course
  • Salsa: corn, corn and bean, peach or mango, pesto, roasted tomato)
  • More: Dijon mustard, kimchi, pickled beets, pickled onions and other pickled vegetables, pomegranate arils
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    Plus

  • Chopped fresh herbs: basil, cilantro, dill, thyme
  • Slaw: Asian slaw (no mayo), purple cabbage cole slaw, root vegetable slaw.
  • Vegetables: grilled or roasted, ratatouille or other vegetable medley
  •  
    Our personal favorite latke garnish is gourmet-traditional: creme fraiche with dill, smoked salmon and caviar.

    We would gladly accept a latke trio: three different preparations, as in photo #6.

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    *Latkes are traditionally eaten by Ashkenazi Jews during the Chanukah. The oil in which the latkes are fried is another tribute to the miracle of Chanukah. The history, in brief: In ancient Judea, the Syrian king Antiochus ordered the Jewish people to abandon their religion and worship the Greek gods. Judah, leader of the band that called themselves the Maccabees (Hebrew for hammer), drove the Syrians from Israel and reclaimed the Second Temple in Jerusalem, removing the Greek statues. They finished their work on the 25th day of the month of Kislev, and wanted to light the eternal light (N’er Tamid), present in every Jewish house of worship, to rededicate the temple. Once lit, the light should never be extinguished. But there was only a tiny jug of lamp oil—enough for a single day. A miracle occurred: the light burned for eight days. This is the origin of Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, which is celebrated for eight days. The word Chanukah means “rededication.”

     

    Carrot Latkes
    [4] Carrot and scallion latkes (photo courtesy Elana’s Pantry).

    Celery Root Parsnip Latkes
    [5] Celery root and parsnip latkes. You can make beet latkes or potato latkes, too.

    Gourmet Latkes

    [6] Gourmet latke trio: lobster and white truffles, caviar and crème fraîche, smoked salmon and crème fraîche, all with a quail egg garnish (photo courtesy Duet Brasserie).

     

    RECIPE: GRANDMA BERTHA’S LATKES

    This recipe for quick, light and crisp latkes is from Andrea Watman, Creative Director at New York City’s legendary Zabar’s. The recipe is Andrea’s grandmother’s

    This simple adaptation uses a food processor instead of hand grating, and potatoes that are not peeled. It should only take minutes to prepare.

    The latke recipes of Grandma Bertha’s time required labor-intensive peeling of the potatoes, then grating them on a four-sided metal grater—which invariably ended up scraping one’s knuckles as well.

    The hand grating took so long that the potatoes would start to discolor. Only the enjoyment of the delicious finished latkes made one forget the travail of making them.

    Andrea improved upon the recipe by tossing the potatoes, peel and all, into the food processor. She also uses a coffee scoop to measure the batter. She finds that it makes latkes that are “just the right size.”

    If you don’t have a coffee scoop, you can use a 1/4 cup measure, which makes larger latkes.

    Latkes freeze really well and can be reheated in the microwave; but they are best when eaten right after cooking.

    Ingredients For About 30 Latkes

  • 4 Idaho potatoes, washed but not peeled
  • 1 large yellow onion
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1-2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon coarse salt
  • ½ tablespoon fresh-ground pepper
  • Oil for frying (Andrea uses half olive oil, half corn oil)
  • Garnishes of choice
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    Preparation

    1. CUT the potatoes and onion into quarters. Place in the bowl of food processor, using the “S” blade or knife blade. Grind until finely ground; pulse if necessary.

    2. ADD the eggs, salt and pepper. Grind until mixed. Remove bowl from food processor and stir in the flour. The mixture should be the consistency of thick oatmeal.

    3. HEAT 1″ of oil in a deep frying pan. Be patient and wait until it heats fully or the latkes won’t get golden brown. (Andrea uses an electric frying pan set at high heat because she finds it provides a more consistent heat than the stovetop.)

    4. SCOOP the batter into the frying pan using a coffee scoop. You should be able to fry 6-8 latkes at a time. The latkes will begin to bubble, just like regular batter pancakes.

    5. TURN them when brown. Try not to turn them more them once. The less you turn them the crisper they will be. Remove all the pancakes that have been cooking before adding new batter. In this way, way you can control the temperature of the oil and keep track of cooking time.

    6. PLACE the cooked latkes on paper towels to drain.

     
    MORE LATKE RECIPES

  • Butternut Squash Latkes With Harissa & Tahini Crème Fraîche
  • Potato, Onion & Cauliflower Latkes
  • Vegetable Latkes: carrots, leeks, parsnips, potatoes, white onion
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    FOOD FUN: Mezuzah Sushi

    Sushi Mezuzah

    A mezuzah created as sushi, at Catch | NYC.

     

    First, let us state emphatically that no disrespect is intended to any devout observers who might take umbrage at a mezuzah turned into food as humor.

    Personally, we were charmed by this sushi mezuzah, from the Facebook page of Catch | NYC; we had to share it.

    It was published during Rosh Hashanah of last year, but we didn’t see it until the holiday was over. Our guess is that it was easier to make a sushi mezuzah than a sushi shofar.

    Since the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah, begins tomorrow night, we saved it to share with you.

    A mezuzah, literally the Hebrew word for doorpost, is a small, handwritten parchment scroll, rolled up and housed in a long, narrow, decorated case of metal, wood, glass, ceramic or other durable material.

    Mezuzahs are affixed to the doorposts of Jewish homes, designating the home as Jewish and reminding those who live there of their connection to God and their heritage.

     
    Mezuzahs fulfill the Biblical commandment to “write [the words of God] on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates*” (Deuteronomy 6:9).

    The scroll contains the first two verses of the Shema Yisrael a section of the Torah, the central reference document of Judaism. The Shema serves as a centerpiece of the morning and evening Jewish prayer services.

    These words are handwritten in Hebrew by an expert scribe, who is trained in the regulations involved in writing a mezuzah scroll.

    Here’s more about it.

    ________________

    *Some interpret Jewish law to require a mezuzah on the doorway of every room* in the home. The exceptions are bathrooms (which are not living spaces), laundry rooms, closets and areas that are too small to qualify as rooms.

     
      

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    RECIPE: Chopped Fennel & Apple Salad

    This crunchy chopped salad is a smooth transition from summer to heartier winter salads.

    It’s based on what we think is an under-used vegetable, fennel, which is in season from early fall to early spring.

    Crisp fennel and crisp apple combine with crunchy pomegranate arils, which add a festive touch.

    (Don’t like arils? Try this fennel and arugula salad with apple and orange.

    We’re also fond of these fennel pickles.)

    This recipe comes to us from Beth Warren Nutrition. Beth is the author of two books, Living a Real Life with Real Food (2014) and Kosher Girl, due in spring 2018. Her focus is health-conscious kosher meals; but you don’t have to be kosher to enjoy every bite.

    Beth likes this recipe for Rosh Hashanah. It goes splendidly with yesterday’s recipe for Buttermilk Roast Chicken.

    Also take a look at this Orange Fennel Salad recipe, this Shaved Salad With Pear & Fennel, and these Fennel Pickles.
     
     
    RECIPE: FALL FENNEL SALAD

    Ingredients For 4-6 Servings

  • 2 bulbs fennel, chopped
  • ½ thinly sliced green apple
  • ¼ cup pomegranate seeds
  • Juice of ½ lime
  • 1 tablespoon chopped walnuts
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  •  
    Preparation

    1. COMBINE the ingredients in glass mixing bowl. Sprinkle salt and pepper to taste.
     
     
    FENNEL FACTS

    Fennel looks like the offspring of a peeled white onion and a bunch of dill. It’s crunchy like celery, with a slight anise taste.

     

    Fennel Apple Salad
    [1] A fall chopped salad: fennel salad, with apples and pomegranate arils (photo courtesy Beth Warren Nutrition).

    Fennel Bulb

    [2] A bulb of fennel. All parts can (and should!) be eaten (photo courtesy Good Eggs).

     
    You can use every part of it.

  • If you only want to use the bulb, turn the stalks into pickled fennel, a.k.a. fennel pickles.
  • The fronds make a lovely food or plate garnish for any savory food, and can be dried and used as herbs.
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    The History Of Fennel

    Fennel is highly aromatic and flavorful, with a long history of both culinary and medicinal uses. The bulb and stalks resemble celery, the leaves look like dill (Anethum graveolens, also of the same order and family), and the aroma and flavor resemble sweet licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabraa, a totally different order [Fabales] and family [Fabaceae]).

    A member of the parsley family* (Apiaceae), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) and celery (Petroselinum crispum) are botanical cousins, members of the same order* (Apiales) and family* (Apiaceae). Both are believed to be indigenous to the shores of the Mediterranean, growing wild before they were cultivated thousands of years ago.

    Records of fennel’s use date back to about 1500 B.C.E, although its use far precedes the records.

    Fennel was likely first cultivated in Greece, and was used for both medicinal† and culinary purposes. The ancient Greeks and Romans ate the entire plant: the bulb, the the seeds, blossoms and the fronds.

    Theirs was a more bitter variety. Florence fennel, also called sweet anise and finocchio in Italian, the variety eaten as a vegetable, wasn’t developed until the 17th century, in the area of Florence, Italy [source].

    Although many recipes make reference to fennel “root,” it is actually the stalk, swollen into a bulb-like shape at the plant’s base, which is consumed (the same is true with kohlrabi).

    Uses For Fennel

    Fennel can be substituted for celery in recipes when an additional nuance of flavor is desired. We also enjoy it as part of a crudités plate.

    Fennel seeds are a popular spice, for baking, bean dishes, brines, fish, pork, sausages and much more. We especially like them in cole slaw and cucumber salad.

    Plain and sugar-coated fennel seeds are used as a spice and an after-meal mint in India and Pakistan. If you don’t see a dish of them as you leave, ask for them at restaurants.
    ___________________________________________
     
    *We love this family, which also includes angelica, anise, asafoetida, caraway, carrot, celery, chervil, coriander, cumin, dill, fennel, lovage, cow parsley, parsley, parsnip and lesser known edible plants (sea holly, giant hogweed). It also includes the poisonous hemlock.

    In case you don’t remember plant taxonomy from high school biology, here’s a refresher.

    †Pliny The Elder mentions fennel as a treatment for stomachache, the “stings of serpents,” uterus health and other maladies. Those ancient homeopaths got it right: According to Web MD, modern uses include various digestive problems, such as heartburn, intestinal gas, bloating, loss of appetite and colic in infants. It is also used for upper respiratory tract infections, coughs, bronchitis, cholera, backache, bedwetting, and visual problems. Some women use fennel for increasing the flow of breast milk, promoting menstruation, easing the birthing process, and increasing sex drive. And yes, fennel powder is used as a poultice for snakebites.

      

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    RECIPE: Buttermilk Roast Chicken

    We have roasted chicken on our mind. It’s close to Rosh Hashanah (September 23rd this year), and we’re thinking back to Nana’s roasted chicken.

    Post-Nana, our roast chicken was never as good, even if we followed the same steps. Nana must have had an understanding with chickens.

    Until we tried the recipe below, soaking the chicken in buttermilk. Some chefs prefer to soak the chicken overnight. It creates a tender chicken with an extra punch of flavor.

    Marinating chicken in buttermilk is a time-honored pathway to moister meat, whether roasted or fried. With a bit of advance planning the night before to marinate the chicken, you’re virtually guaranteed a beautifully browned and richly-flavored bird the next day.

    The recipe is from chef/writer Samin Nosrat.

    Samin serves the chicken with a panzanella (bread salad with vegetables). In this case, panzanella comprises the greens and rustic bread cooked in the pan.

    If you’re off bread, simply roast, saute or steam triple the amount of veggies. Samin uses mustard greens. We highly recommend them—they’re a very under-used green. If you don’t like even a hint of mustard flavor, you can substitute collards or kale.

    Thanks to Good Eggs for sending us the recipe.

    Don’t need a while bird? Another of our favorite food writers and photographers, the White On Rice Couple, presents this delicious recipe for Milk Roasted Chicken Thighs, using whole milk.
     
     
    RECIPE: SAMIN’S BUTTERMILK ROAST CHICKEN WITH MUSTARD GREEN PANZANELLA

    With the chicken marinated in buttermilk, you need just 15 minutes of prep time, and 60 minutes to roast the chicken.

    Ingredients For 4 Servings

  • 1 3-4 pound chicken, salted
  • 1 quart buttermilk, well shaken
  • 3 tablespoons table salt or fine sea salt
  • 4 slices of rustic country bread, torn into 2 inch chunks
  • 2 bunches of mustard greens or kale, de-stemmed
  • 4 shallots, sliced or 1 red onion
  • Handful of fresh sage or rosemary leaves
  • 6 ounces king trumpet mushrooms*, cleaned and sliced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
  • ¼ preserved lemon†, sliced thinly
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    Plus

  • Brining bag or other resealable plastic bag
  • Butchers twine
  • ________________

     

    Buttermilk Roast Chicken
    [1] With this buttermilk chicken, technique delivers a remarkable bird.

    Country Loaf
    [2] A country loaf, also known as a rustic loaf.

    Mustard Greens
    Mustard greens. You can substitute kale.

    King Trumpet Mushrooms
    King trumpet mushrooms. All photos courtesy Good Eggs.

    *King trumpet mushrooms, also called king oyster mushrooms and French horn mushroom and eryngii/eringii mushroom and other names, is the largest variety in the oyster mushroom family. It is now being cultivated in the U.S. You can substitute matsutake mushrooms (which may be even harder to find), or any meaty mushroom (perhaps portabella or baby bellas).
     
    †Here’s a recipe for preserved lemons; but you only need a bit in this recipe. Check your food store’s olive bar or a Middle Eastern market: You may be able to buy one already made.
    ________________

    Preparation

    This recipe requires some preparation a day in advance. Beginning the day before you plan to cook the chicken:

    1. SEASON it generously with the salt (more salt than you’d use for ordinary seasoning). Let the salted chicken sit for 30 minutes.

    2. ADD 3 tablespoons of salt into the container container of buttermilk. Seal it and shake to encourage the salt to dissolve. Place the chicken in a re-sealable plastic bag and pour in the buttermilk. Seal it, squish the buttermilk all around the chicken, place the bag on a rimmed plate or in a pan, and refrigerate. If you’re so inclined, over the next 24 hours you can turn the bag so each part of the chicken gets marinated, but it’s not essential.

    3. REMOVE the chicken from the fridge two hours before you plan to start cooking. When you’re ready to roast, preheat the oven to 425°F/218°C. Remove the chicken from the plastic bag and scrape off as much buttermilk as you can without being obsessive (we used a rubber spatula).

    4. TRUSS the chicken by placing a 12-inch length of butcher’s twine with its center at the small of the chicken’s back. Tie the twine around each wing tightly and then flip the chicken over and use the remaining twine to tie the legs together as tight as you can.

    5. PLACE the bird in a big cast iron skillet or a roasting pan with, the legs pointing toward the rear left corner of the oven. Place in the oven and close the door. You should hear the chicken sizzling pretty quickly. After about 15 minutes, when the chicken starts to brown, reduce the heat to 400°F/205°C and continue roasting.

    6. WAIT another 15 minutes, remove the pan and add the shallots/onion, greens, herbs and chanterelles. Using tongs, mix the veggies around in the chicken drippings and place the pan back in the oven, this time with the legs facing the rear right corner of the oven.

    7. CONTINUE cooking for another 35-40 minutes, stirring the veggies with tongs once or twice so they cook evenly. The chicken is done when it’s brown all over and the juices run clear when you insert a knife down to the bone between the leg and the thigh.

    8. REMOVE the bird to a platter and set it on a cutting board on your counter. Add the bread to the skillet or pan and toss with all of the veggies, making sure to coat the bread evenly in the drippings.

    9. RETURN the vegetables to the oven for 10 minutes. When you remove the pan from the oven, add the preserved lemon to the bread and mustard greens. The chicken will be ready to carve and eat immediately.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Holiday Ice Cream

    Red White & Blue Ice Cream
    [1] Mix in sprinkles for holiday-themed ice cream, like this patriotic flavor from OddFellows Ice Cream.

    Red White & Blue Ice Cream Cones

    [2] Make matching cones. Here’s the recipe from Sweet Estelle.

     

    You can create special ice cream for any special occasion, using store-bought vanilla ice cream and mix-ins in holiday colors.

    The easiest way is to buy sprinkles, confetti and confetti shapes (hearts, pumpkins, stars, etc.—photo #2).

    For example:

  • July 4th, Labor Day & Memorial Day: red and blue sprinkles.
  • Halloween: orange and black sprinkles.
  • Thanksgiving: orange, red and yellow sprinkles.
  • Christmas: red and green sprinkles.
  • Valentine’s Day: red and pink sprinkles.
  • St. Patrick’s Day: dark and light green sprinkles.
  • Easter: pastel sprinkles.
  •  
    Preparation

    1. SET the container on the counter until the ice cream is soft enough to mix in the decorations.

    2. RETURN to the freezer until ready to serve.

    TIPS: It’s easier to mix two separate pints than a quart or larger container. And it’s even easier than that to dip the edges of ice cream sandwiches into the sprinkles.
     
     
    JULY 4TH TRIVIA

  • The first independence Day. The Declaration of Independence was formalized on July 2, 1776, when Congress voted for independence from Great Britain. Two days later, on July 4, 1776, the final wording of the Declaration of Independence was approved, and the document was published. The first public reading of the Declaration of Independence was on July 8, 1776. Delegates began to sign the Declaration of Independence on August 2, 1776. While John Adams wanted it to be July 2nd, Congress agreed on July 4th for the holiday.
  • The term “Independence Day” was not used until 1791.
  • The first description of how the holiday would be celebrated was in a letter from John Adams to his wife Abigail, on July 3, 1776. He described “pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations” throughout the United States.
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  • If July 4th falls on a weekend, the celebration is moved: to Friday, if the date falls on a Saturday; to Monday, if it falls on a Sunday. The date was maneuvered to provide federal employees (and subsequently, most of us) with a three-day weekend.
  • The Liberty Bell, housed in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, hasn’t rung in 171 years. Instead, it is tapped 13 times every July 4 by descendants of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. It was ordered from England by the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly (part of the state’s colonial government) to hang in its new State House (later known as Independence Hall). In arrived in 1751 and cracked at its first ringing—as had two prior bells tested in England. In 1846, when Philadelphia’s mayor requested that it be rung on George Washington’s birthday, attempts were made to repair an existing fracture and the bell reportedly tolled loud and clear at first, but then cracked beyond repair.
  • Calvin Coolidge, our 30th president, was born on July 4th, and three presidents died on it. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died on the 50th anniversary of the holiday, in 1829; James Monroe died on July 4, 1831.
  • The annual July 4th hot dog eating contest, sponsored by Nathan’s Famous, began as a disagreement among four immigrants at Coney Island, Brooklyn, on July 4th, 1916. The fight was over who was more patriotic. They were overheard by Nathan Handwerker, an immigrant with a hot dog cart, who offered them a challenge: Whomever could devour the most hot dogs would win the argument. The winner was an Irish immigrant named Jim Mullen who consumed 13 hot dogs in 12 minutes (it is not noted whether Nathan donated the hot dog or if the challengers paid the going rate, five cents apiece). In 2016, Joey Chestnut devoured 70 hot dogs and rolls in 10 minutes—–watched by some 30,000 fans at Coney Island and millions around the world on ESPN.
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