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So yes, my first attempt at getting creative with my latkes ended in failure. I am neither proud, nor stubborn, so after this mishap I decided i needed to go back to basics and make a traditional, honest-to-goodness, classic potato latke. With help from a friend (really, her mother, but I won’t rub it in), I acquired a tested and bullet-proof plan of action.

Could I have done something to make these latkes more exotic? Sure. I thought about playing with fresh herbs and heady spices, but I wanted to stick to my roots this time around. Besides, a classic latke, though delicious and simple in its own right, can be a platform for any number of toppings, not the least of which includes apple sauce. They’re fried potato and onion (uh, YUM), so try some sour cream (also traditional), a fried egg (breakfast, anyone?), ketchup or barbecue sauce (if you’re a total goy), crème fraîche and caviar (no, really, just like an oyster),  or anything else you enjoy with fried potatoes.

Ingredients

  • 3-4 pounds of russet potatoes (weight is approximate)
  • 1 pound of onion, either yellow or white (again, weight is approximate)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly-ground black pepper
  • Vegetable oil (for frying)

Procedure

  1. Wash and peel potatoes. Can be done in advance if kept under cold water.
  2. Chop potatoes and onions into relatively uniform chunks. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter, so neatness doesn’t count.
  3. Process chunks in food processor in brief pulses, making sure to scrape down the bowl at least once. The final texture should be uniform, but still quite chunky.
  4. Drain the mixture in a colander lined with a tea towel or several layers of cheesecloth (work in batches if necessary).
  5. Twist the towel around the mixture and wring out the moisture, applying a fair amount of force.  Place in a large workbowl.
  6. Stir the mixture together with the beaten egg.
  7. Season with kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper. Be aggressive!
  8. Heat 1/4 cup (or so) of the vegetable oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat.
  9. Scoop the latke mixture into the pan, flattening out into pancakes.
  10. Flip once the underside has browned, about 3 minutes maximum.
  11. Cool briefly before eating.

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I feel like I may be revisiting latkes at some point, if inspiration to do something weird and different strikes me. For now, I’m glad I finally figured out the basics, even if Chanukkah was last month.

– Max.

This was supposed to be a post about Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. I was going to write about the fond memories of childhood lighting the menorah with my sisters, marvelling at the way the licking flames from our candles would throw shadows onto dark walls, and how each night, the light from the menorah would grow with each new candle, until the eighth night, when the warm glow from the full row of candles made the frost and snow and chilling cold of wintertime feel far, far away.

Instead, my latkes came out like shit.

It could have been my ingredients, perhaps too moist to allow for proper frying. It could have been my pan, a one-time non-stick that had most definitely seen better (and slipperier) days. It could have also been my technique, using both butter and oil to try to get more flavor.

Regardless, my latkes were failures. They didn’t brown properly, they stuck to the pan, and I ended up with pale, mediocre hash browns.

My ancestors weep in their graves at my incompetence.

I had such high hopes. Humility, thy name is latke.

This is not the end.

The latke shall return.

– Max.

To the uninitiated, a lokshen kugel (sweet noodle kugel, or casserole) presents many stumbling blocks. The parts list can seem hauntingly disparate, or at the very least, quite heavy on fat/sugar/calories. The finished product can be confusing, or, as one of my friends said when presented with a piece to try, “I don’t trust it. It’s sweet pasta.” However, a righteous kugel, free of canned and processed fruits and other 1960s remnants, is (for me, at least) a rich, wonderful gestalt and a comforting reminder of the Jewish specialities of my childhood. I’ve made many a kugel over the years, and I’ve tailored my own recipe to produce a kugel that is not overly sweet, firm but not dry, and rich, but not overwhelmingly heavy. Note #1: I made a double batch for this post, as I had many mouths to feed. That will explain the over-abundance of ingredients in my photos.

The line up, bitches.

It's not so much a sweet side dish as it is dessert you eat with your dinner. Camera shy: the eggs and the egg noodles

First off, I will admit that a proper kugel is not a low-calorie affair. However, I’ve used both the regular and light versions of cream cheese and sour cream, and I can put my hand on my non-failing heart and say that the light products will yield as luscious a final dish as the regular stuff, and with at least 1/3 less fat. With all of the sugar and eggs that go in, nothing will be missed. I promise.

Some brands only give you 12 ounces in a bag. Those egg noodles are for suckers.

"Pennsylvania Dutch" is actually appropriate, as kugels are of German/Polish Ashkenzai extraction. Yay for cultural and historical accuracy!

First step to success is to not overcook the egg noodles. They are no where close to as firm and chewy as regular dried semolina pasta and if you’re not careful, they will turn to mush in a flash. Make sure to give them a lot of water to boil in, and make sure to add just a bit of salt. Start checking the noodles after about 3 minutes. You want them to be relatively firm, as they will spend about 45 minutes in the oven and will certainly cook a bit more during that time. Note #2: My mother decided to help me with this kugel. Because of this, she cracked all of the eggs into the work bowl of the stand mixer BEFORE I could cream the dairy and the eggs together.
OFFENSIVE EGGS.

Thanks for nothing, Mom.

To be honest, it was not a catastrophe, but it did not allow the batter (or really, custard, as this is actually a noodle custard pudding casserole) to be as smooth as it should have been. The end product was still delicious and no one knew a goddamn thing. When you make it, though, wait to mix the eggs in until after the dairy and sugar have been thoroughly mixed. I just mixed the eggs together and threw in the rest of the ingredients, no real harm done.

It's like something went horribly wrong with your breakfast.

Does it look delicious yet? Huh? Yeah? ...anyone?

 

Once the custard / batter has come together, it comes time for some choices. As I mentioned above, some classic kugel recipes will call for various canned and processed fruits drowning in a heavy syrup, but I have never been a proponent of such additions. This being a traditionally fall season dish, I like diced apples, and being a good New England boy, I have a local orchard not 10 minutes away for whenever my harvest heart desires les pommes délicieuse. I also like raisins, but only golden raisins, as they have a more mild flavor than their black brethren. Feel free to break with tradition and add whatever fresh or dried fruits you feel would work well, but just remember to keep the pieces small. After mixing in your fruits, throw the egg noodles in a baking dish and mix thoroughly!

Well? DOES IT LOOK YUMMY YET?!

Some people just bake their kugel as-is, but we can definitely make this better with something on top.

The special finishing touch is really my favorite part of my kugel. There are various recipes for a topping, from simply sprinkling with sugar to adding crumbled corn flakes, but mine is both deceptively simple and super-extra delicious. It is a one-to-one combination of graham cracker crumbs and light brown sugar, mixed with some melted butter. Hopefully you’ll have some whole graham crackers (on, in my case, a pie crust) that you can crush yourself. The only trick with is is to not smash the graham too fine. You want irregular pieces, from smooth crumb to large chunks.

FUCKING NOTICE MY TEXTURE!

Notice the wonderful various in texture!

Next comes the brown sugar, and I find that a fork works the best to mix everything together without making big clumps. After drizzling in the melted butter, make sure to mix very well, as you want there to be no real sign of excess moisture in the bowl. The final product should look a lot like wet sand.

Clear bowl on a wooden table? I'm like freaking out right now, man.

Much more delicious than the sand you used to eat at the playground.

Use your hands to sprinkle the topping over the kugel, but don’t pack it down. You can spread it gently to make sure you have even coverage, but if you press down, the topping won’t get a chance to brown as well. And remember, brown means flavor. Bake at 350 degrees. A knife should be mostly dry when you pierce the middle of the casserole, but not completely. All dry = dry kugel = frowny face.

Worth the calories.

It finally looks good. And it smells better than it looks.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound bag of egg noodles, wide / large cut
  • 12 ounces (1.5 standard square packages) light cream cheese
  • 1 cup light sour cream
  • 5 whole eggs
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 apple, diced into small cubes (I prefer something tart like a granny smith or a honeycrisp)
  • About 1/2 cup of golden raisins (or other dried fruit)

For the topping:

  • 1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs  from a box, from whole crackers, or a pie shell)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, light or dark
  • 2-3 tablespoons butter, melted
    • Mix the crumbs and the brown sugar together with a fork. Drizzle on the melted butter, and mix well again. The final product should resemble wet sand and be relatively dry.

Procedure

  1. Boil noodles in lightly salted water, careful not to overcook. Egg noodles will cook much faster than standard pasta, so check after about 3 minutes.
  2. Beat cream cheese, sour cream, and sugar together in mixing bowl on medium speed for about a minute.
  3. Beat in the eggs on slow speed, one at a time.
  4. Add cinnamon, vanilla, salt, and mix well.
  5. Combine with apple and raisins and add to noodles.
  6. Mix well, place into baking dish that has been buttered or sprayed with non-stick.
  7. Top with graham mixture.
  8. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes (closer to an hour if you’re doing a double-batch like me.)

Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur may be over, but why should that mean no more kugel? It’s like turkey and cranberry sauce – so beloved, but only once a year. Fuck that, make a holiday meal whenever you want to have one. Rejoice and celebrate! Get festive just because. Impress friends, loved ones, bitches, and/or hoes.

L’chaim.

– Max.

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