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Archive for December, 2011

Another Year, Another Latke

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

I’m not sure how it came to be that latkes became the most ubiquitous Chanukah food in America (in Israel, sufganiot are just as popular). Somehow, traditions form an integral part of the experience of celebration; reliving the miracle through edible customs strengthens the associations we have with a given mitzvah. Biting into a crispy latke, our fingertips glistening from oil, for example, reminds us of the menorah, lit in all its glory. We find comfort in returning to those “old school” traditional foods, but it’s also ok to change it up a little bit every now and then to keep things interesting. There are eight nights after all.

People like just about anything fried in oil, as long as it has that crispy-crunchy-salty quality to which we have become entirely addicted. Someone along the way discovered that latkes and sour cream go well together. But if you keep kosher and serve a meat meal, then sour cream is out. Aren’t there any other options? How do we gussie up our little latke with flavor and textural contrasts, especially at party time?

The Greeks managed to defile not only our precious oils during the time of Chanukah, but the entirety of the Temple in Jerusalem, the heart of our holiness and culture. The victory of the Maccabees symbolizes the freedom to return to our traditional observances, to illuminate a dark time. Such were my thoughts when thinking about pairing a liver pâté with my latkes this year. Follow me here: raw livers need to be handled with care as they are not purchased already koshered. Raw livers are not kashered through a salting process, but rather need to be broiled in order to remove the blood. I thought it both meaningful and tasty to pair one food commemorating our rededication of the Temple (Chanukah literally means “dedication”) with another that requires our current dedication to the observance the Torah’s commandments. And since it goes against my grain to leave well enough alone, this pâté has been updated a bit to complement the latkes’ tart apple flavor. But even if you are a traditionalist (“you’re gonna put what on my latke?”), feel free to serve the pâté as a spread with crackers or crusty bread on your holiday table.

Granny Apple-Potato Latkes with Drunken Cherry Liver Pâté

Granny Smith apples have a crisp, tart flavor that gets mellowed and sweetened when cooked…or fried up as your next latke!

Yield: 22 latkes

2 russet potatoes, peeled
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and quartered
1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
1½ tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. ground black pepper
2 eggs
1/3 cup flour
Canola or vegetable oil, for frying

Grate potatoes, apples and onions together (can be done in a food processor or by hand). Squeeze and drain out as much liquid as possible. Quickly transfer mixture to a mixing bowl and add salt, pepper, eggs and flour; mix to blend.

Pour enough oil into a large, heavy skillet so that there is approximately ¼ -inch layer covering the bottom. Heat the oil over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, carefully drop large spoonfuls (about 2 tablespoons worth) into the pan, flattening each into a disc with the back of a spoon (or you can use your hands to form and drop). Fry for about 3-4 minutes per side, flipping when edges are golden brown. Do not move latkes around before they are ready to be turned, as they can stick and tear. Latkes should be a deep brown color on both sides. Immediately transfer them to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Repeat with the remaining batter Serve topped with a small spoonful of Drunken Cherry Liver Pâté (recipe below).

*Cook’s note: If making ahead, refresh uncovered in a 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes prior to serving.

Drunken Cherry Liver Pâté

Try to find livers that are more pale tan than dark reddish-brown in color. They are more mild tasting and less pungent. Raw livers must be kashered through broiling to remove the blood. See below for directions.

1 lb. chicken livers, trimmed
4 tbsp. olive oil (or chicken fat), divided
2/3 cup finely chopped shallots (about 2 medium)
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/3 cup dried tart cherries, chopped
1/2 tsp. crumbled rosemary
3 Tbsp. cognac (or brandy)
1 tbsp. white wine or sherry vinegar

To kasher livers according to Jewish law, click here for step-by-step instructions. Don’t get scared. It’s not that difficult.

Once kashered, transfer to a mixing bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Chop or mash the livers with a fork or knife. The consistency should be slightly chunky. Set aside.

Heat remaining oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and season with salt and pepper; sauté for about 3-4 minutes, or until they begin to turn golden in color. Add cherries and rosemary and sauté for another minute. Add cognac and stir to blend. Continue to cook until most of the cognac is absorbed, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat. Add cherry mixture to the livers. Mix to blend. Add vinegar and season to taste with more salt and pepper, if needed. Serve room temperature over Granny Apple-Potato Latkes (recipe above) or with crackers or toasts.

Wishing you a joyous and illuminating Chanukah,
Naomi Ross and the Park East Kosher Family

What Your Grandmother Always Knew…

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

Wandering through the meat department of a local kosher grocery, I stand back and watch for a while. A woman leans over, peering over the many plastic-wrapped packages of red meat, each neatly stacked and labeled, one not too dissimilar from the next… a sea of confusion for the average cook. She stands there for a while. Picks up one package, and then puts it down. Picks up another, then returns it to its place. She just doesn’t know what to buy. Lots of different names and cuts abound, some with duplicate names. Distinguishing the cuts and how to prepare them is hard enough, but at least sometimes there are clues to guide us…words like rib, chuck, neck…hints as to which part of the animal the meat came from. That’s not always the case though, especially with certain cuts that have become common in American kosher butchery and referred to by a unique nomenclature. Being a bit farther removed from the slaughtering and butchering than in our grandmothers’ day, we have to put in the effort to ask questions and become educated consumers…we should at least know what it is that we’ve chosen to purchase and prepare!

What in fact is a “deckle” or rather, where does it come from? That’s one I always wondered about. “Deckle” is actually a Yiddish word for “covering”. The deckle is the fatty covering over the side of the rib. It is a tough, cheap cut, perfect for pot roasting. Similar to a brisket, the deckle is a long, flat piece of meat; however, its irregular shape (it has a small section with the grain running in the opposite direction from the rest of the cut) and extra connective tissue make it less select than the coveted brisket. Less select, but not less flavorful. When treated right and given a good slow cook (and lots of love!), the deckle can make a tasty beef supper, especially when on a budget. Be sure when slicing to watch for the change of grain – and always slice against the grain!

Besides the slow cook, acidity also helps to break down the connective tissue and tenderize the meat. That’s why wine or tomatoes are so commonly used in pot roasting. In the following recipe, I use tomatoes and beer. Be sure to serve with mashed potatoes for a very satisfying meal. That’s what I advised the harried woman in the market, anyway…it’s always good to lend a hand!

Beer-Braised Deckle

A modern pot roast redux, this recipe can also be made with top of the rib, brisket, etc.

Serves 6

Spice Mix

½ tsp. cumin
½ tsp. turmeric
½ tsp. garlic powder
1½ tsp. smoked paprika
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. dried mustard
¼ tsp. black pepper
2 tbsp. cornstarch or flour

Deckle

1 (3-lb.) Deckle
3 tbsp. canola or vegetable oil, divided
2 medium onions, chopped
1 celery stalk, diced
1 large garlic clove, minced
Kosher salt, to taste
1 (28-oz.) can diced tomatoes
1 (12-oz.) bottle beer
5 tbsp. mild molasses

Combine all spice mix ingredients together in a shallow dish, whisking to blend. Dredge deckle in spice mixture, rubbing spices to evenly coat on both sides (you may have to cut the deckle in half if very long). Set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a Dutch oven or large pot over high heat. Place deckle in pan and brown, turning once, about 2 minutes per side (repeat if necessary with other half of deckle). Transfer to a plate and set aside.

Reduce heat to medium-high and add the remaining tablespoon oil to the pan. Add onions, celery and garlic, stirring to blend. Season liberally with kosher salt. Sauté for about 4-5 minutes or until onions are translucent. Add tomatoes, beer and molasses, stirring and scraping up browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Bring to a boil and return deckle to the pot. Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 2½-3 hours or until tender (meat is done when fork pierces and releases easily). Remove from heat and cool slightly.

To serve: transfer deckle to a cutting board and slice meat against the grain with a sharp carving knife. Transfer slices to a platter. Skim any excess fat from the surface of the sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper, if needed. Spoon sauce over meat and serve.