Tuesday, December 20, 2011

tackling latkes: sweet potato-scallion & potato, onion and apple

potato-apple latkes, cooling
i've never made latkes before,
for the purpose of chanukah.

for my culinary school graduation,
i decided that one of my dishes for the
grand buffet, was going to be beet latkes.
when i was done shredding them,
the table,
my apron,
my hands,
the floor and the counters,
were stained red and i was already
over the project. by then, my chef
had convinced me that they could
be served at room temperature, so
that i did not have to struggle with
a la minute preparations - in retrospect,
that part was probably for the best - and
he had an idea that they should be served
over a bed of sliced, raw golden beets.

my memory of that day is this:
while others had the idea to create appetizers,
like, little savory cheesecake bites, cut into
precious squares, i just had to create not only
one, but three dishes, that involved persnickety,
time consuming steps. after making
teeny tiny chocolate tarts and lobster, corn
and chive shot glasses, i spent all afternoon
frying 150 beet pancakes, only to have the
people who ate them, complain that:
1) their fingers were stained
2) they were kind of cold and
3) they didn't realize the raw beets were for
pretty, not for eating.

i was over latkes.
latkes, frying
but, then, this year, for chanukah,
i wanted back in.
i want to start making dishes that have
tradition to them and holiday memories
attached. i want to own a portion of the
jewish meals that my family will serve
year after year. i want to, one day, not
be shocked when i'm responsible for
producing an entire holiday meal
on my own.

my mom was thrilled.
my sisters were happy to still
have latkes.
i was kind of scared.
i was worried that i wouldn't
work quickly enough and that the
potatoes would brown. i was worried
that i wouldn't be a good enough
squeezer and that the latkes wouldn't
turn golden, because they'd be too
waterlogged. i was worried my family,
upon eating their first latke,
would turn to my mother, with pleading
in their eyes, and silently beg her to take
back latke making duties next year.

all of these fears - and the fact that i had to
work the day of our chanukah dinner (held
this past weekend, thanks my work schedule
this week) - convinced me to make the latkes a week
early, and pop them in the freezer, to give me
time to fix any mistakes.
fat sweet potatoes
chopped scallions
egg shells, scallion ends
grated sweet potato
i decided to make two latkes:
from gourmet, that i've
been looking at for years
melissa clark's apple potato latkes,
featured one week earlier in
the new york times.
peeled onions
latke ingredients-potatoes, apples, onions
latke batter
and then,
this happened:
(except for the facts that
-i confirmed that i have
a hot [and cold spot] on my burner
-i made myself cook in a freezing cold kitchen
with the windows open to eliminate the frying
smell from the start [didn't work]
-i should have followed my instinct and squeezed
the sweet potatoes before frying, even though the
recipe didn't instruct for that to happen
-it took me all afternoon to make the latkes
-i may have [literally] frozen my husband out of the kitchen,
and then demanded that he come back to help me
squeeze the potatoes, apples and onions quickly,
before making him help me find room in our jam-packed
freezer for 60 latkes)
the whole thing actually went ok.
apple potato latkes, frying
sure, i've learned you can always squeeze a little bit
more, to really make sure all the liquid is out.
and yes, i'm now more willing to accept that
the first batch of latkes are kind of like the first pancake,
and will never go that well.

but, the latkes tasted like latkes.

in spite of my best efforts, the house smelled
like chanukah.

and this past saturday,
we reheated the latkes
at my mom's, until they were
i watched my family carefully -
no one seemed to be sending
out smoke signals for help.
they ate every single one,
erasing my
beet latke nightmare memories,
in the process.
chanukah dinner
sweet potato-scallion latkes
adapted from gourmet magazine
this recipe was very basic, and a couple reviewers had complained that they were bland. so, after grating the sweet potatoes, i stirred in a few healthy dashes of cayenne, cumin and coriander, which i think i actually was able to taste, subtly, in the finished product. i did not measure - i just shook in spices, until it felt right. as i said above, the recipe did not call for squeezing liquid out of the potatoes, but i think that was a mistake. i spent the whole time i was making these, trying not to notice the liquid pooling at the bottom. and, i doubled the scallions, but i think i could have tripled them (below, i've written as i made them - doubled).

i also made the decision to double this recipe, which was the right decision. the original recipe was supposed to make 28, but doubling it, i got 30. sure, maybe some of mine were big, but i don't think they were that big. below, is the doubled recipe.

4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 bunch scallions, trimmed, cleaned and finely chopped
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
ground cayenne
ground cumin
ground coriander
3/4-1 cup vegetable oil

in large bowl, stir together eggs, scallions, salt and pepper; set aside.

using box grater or grating attachment on the food processor, grate sweet potatoes; transfer to a dish towel and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. add grated sweet potatoes; sprinkle with flour and a couple healthy shakes each cayenne, cumin and coriander. stir to combine.

in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat, heat 3/4 cup oil until hot, but not smoking. Working in batches of 4, spoon 2-3 tablespoons sweet potato mixture into skillet. flatten using back of a slotted spoon (i actually used the 1/4 cup metal measuring cup i was using). reduce heat to medium and cook 3-4 minutes, or until golden brown on each side, turning once. transfer to paper towel-lined plate or sheet pan. add remaining oil to skillet, if necessary.

to freeze: let cool completely. freeze in single layer 2-4 hours. transfer frozen latkes to a freezer safe resealable bag or container. to reheat: heat oven to 400˚f. heat latkes 10-15 minutes, or until hot and sizzling, turning once.

potato, onion and apple latkes
adapted from the new york times
for this recipe, i did something that i never do: i just trusted the recipe. i decided to make it the second i saw melissa clark tweet about it, i didn't bother to research if anyone else made it and i just went for it. it was kind of refreshing. i also doubled this recipe and made the latkes, larger than instructed, but somehow, got exactly the right number (36).

i think that my apples were small, and as i result, i didn't really taste that much apple, but i don't mind, and i would still try them again the same way. i used 4 onions, because they were tiny. also: because i was so nervous about making sure that the apples and potatoes, didn't brown, i asked larry to help me and we turned it into a very fast multi-step process. instead of shredding the onions, potatoes and apples at the same time, i shredded the onions first, squeezed them and then added them to the bowl with the eggs. then, i asked larry to shred and squeeze the apples while i peeled, shredded and squeezed the potatoes. we did not have anything brown, and i recommend it, but if you're cooking alone, there's probably no reason for my crazy version of operation shred and squeeze. (i also realize that my method added work, but it relieved stress, so i consider it a wash.)

here's what i didn't do: i didn't make the cinnamon sour cream that went with it (i'm not really sure why), and since i was making this recipe second, i opted to just keep using vegetable oil, instead of the olive oil.

6 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoons black pepper
2 medium yellow onions, peeled
4 golden delicious apples
2 large russet potatoes
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
vegetable or olive oil for frying

in large bowl, stir together eggs, salt and pepper; set aside.

using box grater or grater attachment on the food processor, grate onion. place onion in strainer; press on onion to release liquid. transfer onion to dish towel; squeeze out remaining liquid. transfer to bowl with egg mixture.

peel and core apples; grate apples. repeat straining and squeezing. transfer to bowl with onions; stir to combine. peel potatoes; repeat shredding and squeezing. sprinkle with flour and baking powder; stir to combine.

in large skillet over medium-high heat, heat 1/4-inch oil, until hot, but not smoking. in batches of four or five, drop 3 tablespoons of latke mixture into skillet; press to flatten. cook 5-6 minutes, or until golden brown, turning once. transfer to paper towel-lined sheet pan.

to freeze: let cool completely. freeze in single layer 2-4 hours. transfer frozen latkes to a freezer safe resealable bag or container. to reheat: heat oven to 400˚f. heat latkes 10-15 minutes, or until hot and sizzling, turning once.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

lima bean puree

lime bean puree, meatloaf, shredded brussels sprouts
hi. it's me.
you may remember me,
but just in case...

my name is brooke.
i cook and take pictures
of what i've cooked
and write about what i've
cooked and taken pictures of...
when i have time.

and even though cooking,
taking pictures and writing
rank very high on several lists:
(-things i'd prefer to be doing,
-things i love doing,
-things i'm often thinking about doing),
they also fall high on
another list:
-things i often need to ignore to make
way for life and work.

but, i refuse to give up on this little
blog-that-could, um, maybe-can.
and, i hope you don't either.
because even though it's taken me
almost three months to tell you about
this lima bean puree, i've thought
of it often and have been writing this
post in my head for almost as long.

larry and i spent our september wedding
anniversary in new orleans. while that might
sound romantic or sweet or well-planned,
it was none of those things. ok, wait. that's not fair.

let me start over.

we spent the summer trying to find one week
to go on vacation. but, suddenly,
it was almost the end of august
and we had not gone away, nor had we found a
week that would work. i looked and saw one free
five day period - starting tuesday afternoon,
that we could run somewhere, anywhere.
i also realized that this was it - if i held out for a
full week, i'd be waiting until after the first of the
year. we found a place with reasonable
fares and jumped into a half-assed vacation, feet first.

and during that time, we recognized that somehow,
our anniversary
fell during that 5 day period. suddenly,
we were going away for our anniversary.

we made many reservations - determined
not to miss out on the barbecued shrimp at Mr. B's,
the cochon at cochon - but, still, none for the evening
of our anniversary. i researched, trying not to be
ridiculously indulgent, trying to take the night
seriously. and, then, i found mila.

it was a small menu, which ordinarily turns me
off, but everything seemed just right. so, i read
a few reviews, made reservations and knew
that if the meal was a bust, we would probably
still be a little full from lunch, anyway.

the dinner was lovely.
we enjoyed a gorgeously arranged salad featuring
frisee and cornbread croutons and heirloom
tomatoes and large crystals of sea salt.
they brought us out celebratory glasses of
champagne, that we never would have thought
to order on our own, and i ate a pasta dish that
was decent, if not sorely in need of a squeeze
of lemon.
lima bean puree and sweet butter
but, what i fixated on that evening,
and what i continued to talk about in the same
breath as those barbecued shrimp when we got
home, was the lima bean puree that they served
in a little cast iron skillet,
alongside cornbread and sweet potato biscuits,
when we first sat down.

it was so simple.
warm lima beans blended into silkiness,
and lightly flavored with...i had no idea.
i preach that i love crazy combinations and
bold impressions. but, this puree was
neither and i couldn't get enough of
the subtle mystery flavor.

i asked the waiter - who was more than
happy to talk to us after learning that we
were from new jersey, too.
he came back and gave me this:
the lima beans were steamed.
they were then pureed with a pepper vinegar.
that was not it.

i talked about the puree on the walk back
to the hotel, on the plane ride home and
in the grocery store when i bought a bag
of dried lima beans to begin operation recreation.
lima bean close-up
i researched the recipe and found nothing.
i thought about calling the restaurant, but
let's be honest - i chickened out.
and, then i decided that i had to get started
or kiss my lima bean puree-obsession, goodbye.

for attempt number one, i decided to use
hot chile peppers. i'm not sure why - the puree
wasn't even slightly spicy. but, i really cannot
stand the flavor of bell peppers and i was pretty
sure that if they used them to make the
vinegar, i would have been able to taste it.
yet, i was pretty sure i was barking up the wrong
tree with the fresnos.

i cut the peppers into 1/2" pieces,
crushed a couple large cloves of garlic and
tossed both into white distilled vinegar.
lima beans, soaking
soaked lima beans
the next day, i simmered the soaked beans
until they were ultra tender and then transferred
them, still warm into the food processor.
(was that a mistake? would limas get pasty like
potatoes? should i have been using a masher?)
and even though it seemed like it was too simple,
i didn't have any other jumping points.
in food processor
so, i poured in a few tablespoons of the limas'
cooking liquid, a couple of the very spicy vinegar
and a couple of olive oil. i blended with my eyes
half closed and when the mixture seemed smooth,
i gave it a taste. it was...close. very close.
i added another tablespoon of the spicy vinegar,
and then one more for good measure, sprinkled
in a few more pinches of salt and blended again.

oh my goodness.
i did it.
first try.
blind guessing.
completely confused about the crazy spicy vinegar
that gave the lima beans a touch of mystery.
but, here it was, in my food processor.
hot and craving
a sweet potato biscuit.
i made larry - who i think enjoyed the puree
a normal amount the first time - try it.
he confirmed it tasted like mila's.
i was shocked. still am, if you can't tell.

and, then i realized:
no pictures. it had never even occurred to
me to take out the camera for what i assumed
would be a non-event. that was the beginning of october.
it took me until two sundays ago to make them
again, to serve alongside a turkey meatloaf and
shredded lemony brussels sprouts.
lima bean puree
i was worried that i wouldn't like it as much.
that i wouldn't be able to get it right again,
that the flavor wouldn't ring true or stand out.
but, from the moment that i tested one lima bean
to make sure it was tender enough to blend, i knew
we'd be ok. better than ok.
i still loved it - subtle, unexpected,
but somehow just right.

just like our anniversary trip this year.
anniversary champagne
the mark of new orleans
street lights
first raw oysters of the trip

lima bean puree
(kind of adapted from mila's)
i have to warn you one last time, this puree will not knock you over with its uniqueness or its shocking lingering flavor. but, it is a lovely mixture to serve with the intention of slathering on warm bread, or served alongside chicken, fish, or as we did on this night, meatloaf. also - know this: this puree will probably not be your best friend at a dinner party. while, you can keep it in the food processor covered for quite a while, if you try to serve it too early, it does form a bit of a crust on top, as it did at mila.

i reserved extra lima bean cooking liquid and stirred into leftovers the next night before reheating. the flavor and texture were pretty spot-on from the night before.

1 bag (16 ounces) dried lima beans, picked over
1/4-1/3 cup spicy vinegar (recipe below)
3-5 tablespoons lima bean cooking liquid
3 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper

place lima beans in large bowl; cover with at least 3 inches cold water. stir to make sure all beans are submerged. let sit 6-8 hours (you can put them under water before you leave for work and make the puree when you get home).

drain beans. place soaked lima beans in large saucepot; cover with at least two inches water. bring to a boil; reduce heat to a bare simmer and let cook 45 minutes-1 hour, or until beans are very tender, skimming off foam as necessary. (to test beans, halve bean and look: you don't want the center to be any darker than the center. if the bean is the same color all the way through, it's a good sign you're ready to go. then taste it. there shouldn't be any resistance. but, for your most sure-on bet, use this trick i learned from anne burrell: after the first one is tender, check four more. if all five are soft and cooked through, it's time).

before draining beans, ladle out a cupful of cooking liquid. drain beans; let lima sit 10 minutes. transfer beans to bowl of food processor; add 1/4 cup spicy vinegar, 3 tablespoons cooking liquid and olive oil. process 30 seconds, or until smooth. taste; and adjust seasoning, adding more vinegar if the puree tastes too flat or more cooking liquid to smooth it out; season with salt and pepper. blend again, tasting and adjusting as necessary.

fresno pepper and garlic vinegar
5 large fresno chile peppers
3-4 large cloves garlic
1 1/2 cups distilled white vinegar

cut peppers into 1/2" pieces. smash garlic with back of knife. transfer peppers and garlic to glass jar or container; cover with vinegar and stir to combine. let sit at least one day before using. (note: the next day, the vinegar will be extremely spicy. that's ok - don't let it stop you from using it in the puree.)