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.

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