Friday, December 9, 2011

Holiday Cooking

Potato pancakes have crept into many cultures and traditions but none does it justice quite like the Potato Latke that is so closely associated with the Jewish Festival of Lights, Hanukkah ( a holiday which has too many times been referred to, unfortunately, as the 'Jewish Christmas'), a celebratory remembrance of the retaking of the temple in Jerusalem in the Second Century BC. It was during this time that the miracle of the holy oil occurred.
What was only enough to last a short time, lasted for 8 days whilst more oil could be procured. For this reason, Hanukkah becomes a celebration not only of lights but of oil (in this case cooking oil) as well.
I learned to make these potato pancakes from a friend, Helen Friedman, from San Francisco one year when invited to spend Hanukkah with her and her late husband, Joe. I have been told that matzo meal should be used instead of flour. If you like, make that substitution which, may be more authentic than this version. But as I stated, it is the one I learned.

Potato Latkes

2 large russet potatoes, peeled and shredded
1/2 medium onion, grated
1 large egg
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt
oil for frying
Sour cream (optional)
Apple sauce (optional)

Place shredded potato and onion in a dish cloth and wring out the water.
Place in a bowl and add the egg, flour and salt.
Fry in heaping tablespoons in hot oil spreading them out into pancakes.
Brown well on both sides and serve with sour cream and/or apple sauce, if desired.

Once again, cranberries turned up on my show on Monday. This time, though, it was not in a cocktail but rather a dessert that all members (read: any age) may legally enjoy.
This recalls the old English tradition of the Christmas pudding which still exists to this day which is evidenced by the number of comments and recipes I read at the Jamie Oliver forum, a great place to learn about cooking (and just about anything else) and to meet some of the nicest people in the world. But I digress, here is the recipe...

Cranberry Pudding

2 cups flour
¾ cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup butter, melted
2/3 cup milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 cups finely chopped cranberries
1 teaspoon grated orange zest


1) Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9-inch baking dish.

2) In a large bowl, sift flour, sugar, baking powder, and cinnamon. Add butter, milk, and egg; beat well. Stir in cranberries and orange zest.

3) Transfer mixture to prepared dish. Bake 45 minutes, until set. Cool slightly and serve.

If there is such a thing as a cooking gene, I can point to the side of the family from which it comes. Not only did the Krumpens (my maternal grandmother's maiden name) turn out wonderful food but completely insane people as well. (And I mean this in a good way!) This all translates into food and fun as far as I am concerned. Time will not allow me to go into stories and antics from this side of the family, but I will share this recipe for snickerdoodles from my second cousin, Mary Stewart Brandt. (Get her family and our family together, throw in a few bottles of wine and it is advised that all doors and windows be secured.)


2 3/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400F
Sift together flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt and set aside.
Beat shortening and sugar together until fluffy.
Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl.
Stir in the dry ingredients until well blended.
In a small bowl, mix the sugar and cinnamon.
Make 2-inch balls from the dough. Roll in the sugar mixture, flatten slightly on a baking sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes.

Monday's quick fix brought back a memory of Sicily for me. Our host, Franco, was a very accomplished cook and was legendary for filling up the table with food and surrounding it with guests. For some reason he seemed to think that my capacity for food was far greater than it actually was. On this particular night, the first course was aio e oio a very simply done sauce of olive oil, garlic and chilies (Franco used cayenne). It is not an exaggeration to say the my bowl was spilling over with pasta. In the clamor of talking and drinking and chaos, I emptied half my bowl into his (he never noticed and if anyone else did they kept mum) and was able to enjoy the subsequent courses without feeling stuffed. This is a great one to do when you are hungry and don't want to take a lot of time but need something now. Buon appetito!

Aio e Oio

4 cloves garlic
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Chili flakes to taste (or cayenne)
1 pound pasta, cooked and drained reserving some of the water
Parmegianno Reggiano or Pecorino

Mince garlic and add to skillet along with chili and olive oil, saute just until garlic starts to color. Add pasta and mix thoroughly adding some of the cooking water to make a sauce.
Season to taste and serve with cheese.

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