An invitation came in from my crack dealer that I couldn't refuse:
"As many of you know, I am a loose Jew - definition: not very religious. I am also a hungry Jew and I absolutely love the foods of Hannukah (minus the noodle kugel.) This year I would like to celebrate the beginning of Hannukah with an early morning* Latke making party. I will be divulging my grandmother's recipe to all in a very relaxing impromptu setting."
Understated as usual, this was more than a casual lesson in the finer points of shredded potatoes. There was a delightful salad and a breathtaking pear tart, too. Not to mention great conversations and laughter with friends in a kitchen that felt like an island of warmth on a gray day in December. All in all, my one morning of Hannukah was a testament to what this holiday is all about.
As far as the food goes, I'm not normally religious either, but after one bite I would have been willing to convert for these Latkes**. The recipes for our gracious hostess' full menu are below:
Her Grandmother's Latkes
4-6 russet potatoes
1/3 c. Health Best All Natural Vegetarian Chicken Broth powder or chicken bouillon powder***
2 tsp. salt
freshly ground black pepper
canola oil, for frying
Grate potatoes and the onion. A food processor makes this go really quickly. Transfer to a plain kitchen towel or a large portion of cheesecloth, wrap up, and squeeze like crazy to get all the liquid out. Take your time and make sure the mixture is completely dry before you move on.
Crack the egg into a large mixing bowl and stir with a fork to blend lightly. Add the potato/onion mix, 2 Tbs. of flour, the chicken broth powder, salt and pepper. Mix by hand until well combined, adding flour as you go to keep the mixture from getting too moist.
Heat up a non-stick frying pan, and add enough canola oil so you have a thin layer covering the bottom. Form potato mixture into thin patties, about 2 1/2 inches across and 1/3 of an inch thick (any thicker and the middles won't cook through).
When oil is hot, add patties and cook about 5 minutes per side, or until deep golden brown. Taste one after frying your first batch to make sure you like the seasonings. Continue to fry in batches, keeping completed latkes warm, uncovered, in a 200 degree oven if they are not getting eaten up immediately.
Serve with homemade applesauce and horseradish creme fraiche.
5 Gala or other tart-sweet apples, peeled, cored, and coarsely chopped
1/3 c. sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
1/3 c. apple cider
Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Simmer over low/medium heat for 1/2 hour. Lightly mash, so it's applesauce-y but still chunky, then continue cooking until most liquid has evaporated. Remove cinnamon sticks and serve.
Horseradish Creme Fraiche
A few tsp. of horseradish
Put creme fraiche into a small bowl. Stir in horseradish, a teaspoon at a time, tasting as you go until it is just right.
Noa's Caesar Salad Dressing
All measurements are approximate, so trust your taste buds!
1 clove of garlic, chopped
1 Tbs. Dijon mustard
1 1/2 to 2 tsp. anchovy paste
juice of 1/2 to 1 lemon
1 Tbs. Banyuls vinegar, Brags apple cider vinegar, or a champagne vinegar
1/2 c. mayonnaise
1/2 c. olive oil
Salt and fresh pepper to taste
Chopped fresh basil or Italian parsley, optional (this will make a green goddess dressing)
Using mini food processor, chop the garlic a little more, then add remaining ingredients and blend well. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve over arugula with shaved Parmesan, or crisp Romaine lettuce with garlic croutons...it's good on anything!
Ina's Pear Tart
1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, defrosted but still well chilled
6-8 pears, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 c. sugar
1/4 c. (1/2 stick) butter, diced
Preheat oven to 400. Roll out puff pastry, and lightly dust with flour. Cover baking sheet with parchment paper, then transfer puff pastry to the sheet. Arrange pear slices on top, leaving a border of pastry all around. Sprinkle the sugar over the pears, then dot with the butter dice. Bake for about 1 hour, until edges are puffed and golden brown.
If you like, make an apricot glaze:
1/3 c. apricot jam
1-2 Tbs. Calvados, other yummy liquor of your choice, or water
Stir together in small saucepan over low heat until smooth and slightly warm. Brush gently over the tart when it comes out of the oven. Allow tart to cool just a bit. Dust with powdered sugar just before serving.
* I love this woman because, like me, her definition of early morning is 9:30.
** Although I would have been tossed back out when I was caught in my car on the way home singing along to Peggy Lee's definitive version of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" at the top of my lungs.
*** These usually have MSG, so the veggie stuff is better if you can find it. If you use the chicken version, start with 1/4 c. and add more as needed.