Hannukah is coming – it’s time for Latkes!

Hannukah (or however you want to spell it) starts on the night of December 11. Since potato latkes are a huge favorite in my house, Hannukah is greatly anticipated each year. Hannukah is a minor holiday in the Jewish calendar, but its proximity to Christmas has elevated its importance. Honestly, any holiday that includes crunchy fried potatoes is plenty important in my book.

Good latkes are not hard to make but they take some work. And there is that pan of hot oil that spatters all over the place. I don’t have a good solution for that, but they are worth the mess at least once a year. And that time of year is fast approaching.

Latkes are always best fresh out of the frying pan. They can be cooled on a rack, refrigerated, and reheated in a 350 degree F oven until hot. They will never be as delicious as fresh but they are still pretty darn good. They can also be frozen. Freeze them on a sheet pan in a single layer. Once they are frozen, you can put them in a plastic bag; they won’t stick together. You don’t need to thaw them first but you should reheat them at 300 degrees to prevent over-browning.

This recipe is based on one in Ethnic Cuisine by Elisabeth Rozin. Her recipe calls for frying the potatoes in schmaltz, aka rendered chicken fat. Since most of us don’t have schmaltz sitting around, I have substituted olive oil. It’s a marriage of my Ashkenazi heritage with my husband’s Sephardic background.

Potato Latkes
(serves 4-6 as a main dish, 8-12 as a side dish)

8 large russet potatoes
1 large onion
3 eggs
3 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
olive oil for frying (pure is preferred over extra-virgin here)

1. Peel potatoes and soak for 1 hour in cold water to cover. Drain and dry well.
2. Coarsely grate the potatoes in the food processor. Remove the blade but leave the potatoes in the food processor bowl.
3. Squeeze as much moisture as you can out of the potatoes, catching the moisture in a small bowl. The easiest way to do this is to take small handfuls of the potatoes and squeeze hard. Then put the squeezed potatoes into a large bowl.
4. Drain off any water left in the food processor but transfer any potato starch to the large bowl. Do the same with the small bowl and transfer any potato starch to the large bowl.
5. Lightly beat the eggs in the small bowl and add to the potatoes.
6. Finely grate the onion in the food processor and add to the potatoes.
7. Add the flour, baking powder, salt and pepper to the potatoes. Mix to combine. Hands are the best tool here. Make sure to combine the the flour and potato starch well.
8. Heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom of a large frying pan. To get the oil hot enough for quick frying, you will need moderate to moderate high heat.
9. When the oil is hot, gently drop small handfuls of potato mixture into frying pan. Flatten out potatoes with a spatula. Don’t try to make the pancake too neat. The bits of potato that stick out are the crunchiest part.
10. When the pancakes are nicely browned, carefully flip over and cook the other side until browned.
11. For best crunch, let cool for a couple of minutes and eat. OK, if you have to share them, place on a rack over a sheet pan in a 180 degree F oven. Cook the remaining potatoes, adding more oil to the frying pan as needed. No one said this was a low-fat recipe!

I like to eat my latkes with ketchup which I’m sure is considered sacrilegious by some. Applesauce is the traditional accompaniment.

Note: A box grater works as well, but you need to grate the potatoes into a bowl so you can catch the potato starch. And expect to shed some tears grating the onion!

Link to PDF of Potato Latkes Recipe


Recipes in a better format

It has been pointed out to me that it is hard to get the recipes out of my blog for saving and printing. Since I want to make my recipes useful to you, I have added a link to a PDF of the recipe in each post that contains a recipe. They are now in all the archived posts and I’ll add them to any future posts.

Hope that helps! And thanks to Ronnie T. for suggesting this improvement. I’m so glad I was able to figure out how to make my blog more user-friendly.

Turkey and Wild Rice Soup

I think turkey and wild rice go together exceptionally well. They are both native Americans. One can imagine that they have been served together in the Upper Midwest for many centuries. 

Wild rice is not a true rice, but it is close relative. It is an aquatic grain native to the Great Lakes and wet forested areas in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. Much of it is no longer “wild” as it is grown commercially in California. When I am very good, my dear friend Kasja brings me wild rice from Minnesota, where it is the state grain.

This is a hearty soup, perfect for a post-Thanksgiving dinner. Just add crusty bread.

Turkey and Wild Rice Soup
(serves 4)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 small onion, peeled and diced
4 cups turkey stock
1/4 cup wild rice, rinsed
1 16 oz. can white or yellow hominy, drained
1 cup diced cooked turkey (optional)
3-4 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 to 1 teaspoon kosher salt

1. Heat oil in a 4 quart saucepan over moderate heat. Add carrot and onion. Saute until onion is translucent.
2. Add stock and wild rice. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat and cook partially covered for 1 hour. Wild rice takes quite a while to get tender. If the rice has absorbed a lot of the stock, add 1-2 cups of water.
3. Add hominy and turkey (if using). Cook for about 5 minutes until hominy and turkey are heated through.
4. Add cilantro, lime juice, pepper and salt to taste. If your stock is unsalted, you will need at least 1 tsp. If your turkey was brined, the stock will be seasoned with some salt already and you’ll need less.
5. Serve hot. 

Link to PDF of the Turkey and Wild Rice Soup

The turkey carcass

Is that turkey carcass still hanging out in the fridge? What are you waiting for? That’s a great pot of soup just waiting to happen. All great soups start with great stock.

Anyone can make great stock. Stock is always made with bones. Since most people pick the carcass clean, that’s exactly what you are left with after Thanksgiving. I often throw in the neck too but this year I used them to make a quick stock Thanksgiving day for the gravy.

The method is simple and the same for any white stock where the bones are not roasted. Put the bones in a large soup pot. Cut the main carcass into pieces so it fits nicely. Peel an onion and cut into eighths. Peel a couple of carrots and cut into chunks. Clean two stalks of celery and cut into chunks. They all go in the pot. If you have drippings from the turkey pan, these can go in too. A cleaned leek is also nice if you have one. The typical aromatics are a smashed clove of garlic, 6 whole peppercorns, a bay leaf, a few sprigs of fresh parsley and a sprig of fresh thyme (or 1/4 teaspoon of dried). If you are neat, you can wrap all of these in cheesecloth for a nice bouquet garni. I usually toss all of them in the pot since they will get strained out after cooking.

Cover everything in the pot with cold water. Set on the stove on medium. As the water comes up to a simmer, you want to spoon off the foam that floats to the surface. This will assure a clearer stock. Another tip for getting a clearer stock is don’t ever let it get hotter than a simmer. After the water gets to a simmer, turn the heat down to low and let it simmer for at least 2 hours. You can let it go 6 hours if you want.

Take 2 pieces of cheesecloth big enough to cover a large strainer. Wet them, wring them out and place in the strainer. Put the strainer over another large pot or bowl and pour in your finished stock. If you are going to make soup right away, you are ready to go.

If you aren’t going to use the stock right away, it’s important that you cool it quickly. Put it in the fridge, or your garage if it is cooler than 40 degrees F. I have a couple of small energy drink bottles that I fill with water and freeze. I put them in the stock to cool it down even faster.

You can freeze turkey stock for at least 3 months. It’s always nice to have a cache of turkey stock from Thanksgiving hiding in the freezer for a lovely pot of turkey soup in February.

Thanksgiving Turkey – Cooking

Thursday morning rolls around. The bird must get cooked before the horde of hungry guests arrive. I’m going to assume you followed my advice and allowed ample time for thawing if your turkey is frozen. Please check your bird the night before, not just before it has to go in the oven (been there, done that). Do not panic if it is still slightly frozen. You can put it in the sink with ice water. Replace the water every hour. It will thaw surprisingly fast. Don’t leave it in the sink overnight, even in cold water. It will not stay cold enough.

Since I have two birds every year, one bird goes in the oven and the other goes on the rotisserie on the grill. The rotisserie turkey is always the most beautiful. The skin is crispier and it is an incredible mahogany brown. I throw cuttings from my grapevine onto the grill to add a little sweet smoke.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. We need to season the birds first. When it’s time to roast the turkey, pull it out of the brine and dry it off. My oven-roasted turkey gets the same treatment every year, which is the way my grandmother made it. I rub it with butter or vegetable oil. I sprinkle it inside and out with paprika (helps the color), garlic powder, salt (go light for a brined turkey), and black pepper. Cut a lemon in half and stuff the halves in the cavity. Do the same with a peeled onion. Take some sprigs of herbs (thyme, rosemary, sage) and stuff those in the cavity too. Oh yeah, I don’t stuff my birds. Since stuffing has to get to 165 degrees F, it makes it more difficult to cook the turkey properly. In order to get the stuffing hot enough, you need to overcook the bird. Stuffing tastes just fine cooked outside the bird and I don’t like my turkey overcooked.

The second turkey gets a southwestern twist. Instead of paprika, I use ground ancho chiles – pure ancho not chile powder. It’s a lot like paprika but it has more oomph. Then garlic powder, a little salt, and black pepper. You can use any dry rub you have as long as it is not heavy on the salt. Like the oven turkey, I stuff a halved lemon and onion in there. Sometimes, I put in a halved orange too, if I have one. For herbs, I use thyme only.

I need to truss the turkey for the rotisserie but I don’t truss the oven-roasted bird. Take the last wing joints and bend them under the body. Or cut them off and use them for stock.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place your turkey on a rack in a large roasting pan. Add 1 cup of water to the pan. Put the turkey in the oven and cook for 45 minutes. Baste and reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees. Add more water if it has all cooked away. Baste every 30 minutes and check the water. For a 10-12 lb bird, total roasting time is 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours. I start checking its internal temperature at 2 hours because I have a convection oven and my turkey is about 10 lbs. The temperature taken in the thickest part of the thigh must reach 170 degrees F. USDA, Butterball and many other sites says 180 degrees but if you cook it that long, you get cotton, not turkey. 170 degrees F is sufficient to kill nasty bugs like salmonella provided you haven’t stuffed your bird. Remember to wash your thermometer before sticking it in the turkey again.

Some recipes, like Cooks Illustrated, call for starting the bird on its breast and then flipping it over. I don’t bother. It’s a real pain in the arse to flip it and I don’t know that it makes a big difference, especially in a brined bird. I roast it breast side up the whole time. I usually cover the breast with foil about half way through cooking to keep it from over-browning.

When the bird has reached 170 degrees F, remove it from the oven and cover it with foil. You should wait at least 10 minutes before craving and we often wait longer. Make sure to put your turkey on a heated platter so it doesn’t cool off before you have a chance to serve it. Heat your dinner plates too.

I hope your bird is delicious and you have a very happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving Turkey – Brining

Many of my friends ask me about cooking a turkey this time of year. Some of them have eaten at my house for Thanksgiving and want to recreate my turkey at home. Others just figure I know everything about cooking, therefore I must know how to make a great turkey.

It is true; I make a helluva turkey. There really isn’t a secret, other than a whole lot of salt. Brining makes the best darn turkey.

First, we should talk about turkeys. If you get a frozen supermarket turkey, odds are they have done the work for you. These turkeys have been “enhanced” with the addition of salt and possibly flavorings which will result in a very juicy and flavorful turkey. I don’t see the point of brining these turkeys (actually I’m not a big fan of these turkeys but they do happen to be very cheap at Thanksgiving). If you buy a fresh turkey, on the other hand, brining will produce the best turkey ever.

Brine is merely water and salt combined in a prescribed proportion. The formula is 1 cup kosher salt to 1 gallon of water. It’s easiest if you use 1 quart of warm water to dissolve the salt and then add 3 more quarts of cold water to get to the correct proportion of salt to water. Your brine should be cold before you immerse your turkey. You need enough brine to cover the turkey, so if your container is large you may need more than one batch. If you are using a bucket, one batch should be enough. You can add herb sprigs or halved citrus (squeeze the juice into the brine first) to the brine. The turkey will absorb some of the flavorings as it takes up the salt.

Folks ask how I deal with a big bird and a bucket of salt water. It doesn’t fit in the fridge. This is often true because the turkey is enormous. I am not a “big turkey” gal. Since I have a grill with a rotisserie, I make two 10-12 pound turkeys rather than wrestle with a gigantic 20 pounder. But, you may not have that choice because you only have one place to cook said bird. The answer is, I don’t put it in the fridge. I suggest a large camping cooler, one big enough to hold the bird(s), the brine and a bunch of ice packs (more on this in a minute). A five gallon bucket is usually big enough to hold a small turkey but since it’s not insulated, you need to fit it in your fridge. Fat chance. A cold garage can sub for the fridge, but you may not have a cold garage. Which is why I use a cooler.

Place your turkey(s) in the cooler/bucket. Cover with brine. If it’s not going in the fridge, add a bunch of ice in plastic bags to the cooler. This will keep the turkey chilled. You can skip the ice packs if you can put your turkey in the garage and it’s going to stay before 40 degrees F. But, do not just throw a bunch of ice in the brine. This will dilute the brine as the ice melts. Weak brine does not produce a tasty turkey.

The nice folks at Butterball suggest brining turkeys under 12 pounds for 6-8 hours. I put my turkeys in the brine the night before Thanksgiving, so I’m in line with their recommendations. If you have a 12-14 pound turkey, Butterball suggests 12 hours in the brine; more than 14 pounds, the turkey can stay in the brine between 12 and 24 hours.

Next, I’ll discuss cooking the marvelous bird.

A friendly reminder – if your turkey is frozen, take it out of the freezer right now and put it in the fridge! Never, ever thaw your turkey at room temperature. It’s going to take a good 3+ days for even a small bird to thaw in the refrigerator.

Carrot Cake

Update from January 23, 2011

I finally made this recipe and can give actual altitude adjustments. See my updated recipe below.

I haven’t made this recipe in years. I think I was in high school the last time I made it. Just like in those bygone days, it was a huge hit. It’s a bit more robust than other carrot cakes, filled with carrot (of course), pineapple, coconut, and walnuts. And no raisins.

But, first, a little story. My mother made this often for her business. The business was a family affair. My aunt was Mom’s partner and we all chipped in when there was a big party. My dad helped too sometimes, which usually worked out ok because he does know his way around a kitchen. One day, he was helping to make this cake – a lot of this cake since Mom never made a single recipe. My dad measured out the ingredients and as he was doing that, Mom walked by. She looked at the pile of dry ingredients and said “Something isn’t right.” My dad had mistakenly pulled out the salt bin for the sugar bin! Mom could tell by looking at the white crystals that it wasn’t sugar. She was good.

14-Carat Cake
(from Farm Journal’s Best Ever Recipes)

2 cups sifted flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups neutral vegetable oil
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups finely shredded peeled carrots (8 ounces)
1 can (8  or 8 1/2 ounces) crushed pineapple in juice, drained
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (2 oz)
1 1/3 cups flaked sweetened coconut (3 1/2 oz)

1/2 cup butter (1 stick), at room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
16 ounces confectioners sugar

Grease and flour 3 9-inch round cake pans.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a large bowl. Add sugar, oil, and eggs. Beat at medium speed for 1 minute. Stir in carrots, pineapple, walnuts, and coconut. Divide evenly among prepared pans.

Bake for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pans on racks for 10 minutes. Remove from pan. Finish cooling on racks.

For the frosting, cream together butter, cream cheese, and vanilla on medium speed. Gradually add confectioners sugar, beating well until smooth and creamy. If the frosting is too thick to spread, beat in a tablespoon or two of milk.

Fill the layers and frost top and sides.

Modifications for 5,000 ft: Reduce baking powder to 1 1/2 teaspoons. Reduce baking soda to 1 teaspoons. Reduce sugar in cake by 2 tablespoons.

Makes 12 servings

Link to PDF of 14 Carat Cake Recipe