Friday, December 30, 2016

Two Shiksas Making Latkes

My 5-year-old daughter came home from school last week all excited because her class had made latkes as part of learning about Hanukkah, and she LOVED them. She's been begging to make some every day since then, and today was finally the right day for our latke project.

Although I have a number of friends who are wonderful Jewish cooks and who make amazing latkes, since my daughter had brought home her own recipe from school, I decided that we would follow her homemade recipe book.

As we usually do when cooking, we began by washing our hands and then collecting our ingredients. For latkes, this list is simple: six large potatoes (I added an extra small one since a few of mine weren't that big), an onion,two eggs, flour, salt, pepper, and vegetable oil for frying.

We started heating the oil before we began our ingredient prep, since it takes a while to get to the proper temperature. (Also because we underestimated how much time it takes to shred half a dozen potatoes and an onion! If you use a food processor to shred the potatoes, you should probably start the oil right away; otherwise, it can wait a while.)

We opted to grate the onions and potatoes by hand, but a lot of people use a food processor. If you use a hand grater, having an assistant is a big help. Grating half a dozen potatoes is hard work! I peeled the potatoes and my assistant did most of the grating.

(I know, I should have tied her hair back. Sorry for the hideous lapse in food prep protocol. I promise I checked carefully that no hair got in the latkes!)

I was surprised at how wet the shredded potatoes were. A friend had recommended putting the potatoes in cheesecloth and squeezing out the liquid, but I didn't have any cheesecloth on hand. However, I discovered that just squeezing it in one hand, or between both palms, drained a significant amount of liquid. I then put the shreds on a few layers of paper towels and pressed them with a few more layers. I could tell when they were dry enough because they stopped sticking to the towels.

Shredding the onion was even wetter. It was hard to hand squeeze, so I just spread it thinly on the paper towels with a spoon and pressed. I think next time I'd mix little batches of the onion with some potatoes and squeeze them together.

The next step was to add two eggs. My assistant happily volunteered for this task.

Finally, we added 2-1/2 tablespoons of flour, 1-1/2 teaspoons of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and mixed it all together. My assistant preferred using a spoon, but I took off my rings and got right in there with my hands.

By now, the oil should be hot enough (I set it on medium-high on my highest burner). Time to make the patties and fry up the latkes!

I discovered that the latkes held their shape best if I pressed them together quite hard (removing a bit more liquid) and making sure they were evenly thin across the middle. Patties that were a bit too chubby tended to be slightly underdone in the center. I used a slotted spatula to flip them when the edges looked crispy and golden brown. Be careful of spattering oil!

Allow to drain on a paper towel.

Of course, eating the latkes is the best part! I liked them with sour cream and applesauce, but my assistant and another random child who conveniently wandered through the kitchen just as they finished cooking (OK, he wasn't random; he lives here, too) preferred theirs au naturale.

Yum! Proof that latkes are so fabulous that even two shiksas who don't know what they're doing can make them. And if WE can, so can YOU! Enjoy, and happy Hanukkah to all those who are celebrating!

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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Twelve Days of Cocktails

I know my last blog entry was based on the "Twelve Days of Christmas," but it's been quite a long time since I've written a cocktail blog, so I'm combining the two. Below is a list of twelve holiday cocktails, inspired by each of the gifts in "The Twelve Days of Christmas."

12 Drummers Drumming
I promise the Highland Drum won't have you feeling like there are 12 drummers drumming on your head the next morning (at least, as long as you don't drink 12 of them!).

In a shaker over ice, combine 2 oz scotch, 1 oz dry vermouth, 3/4 oz Drambuie*, splash of orange juice (or triple sec), a glug of honey or simple syrup, and a dash or two of bitters. Serve in a chilled martini glass and garnish with an orange twist or slice, or a mint or basil leaf or a sprig of rosemary.

*Drambuie is scotch sweetened with honey and steeped with fennel and rosemary. You can make your own using this recipe - but plan ahead, because it needs to steep for three days.

11 Pipers Piping
Most people think of a flute or a fife when they think of the phrase "pipers piping," but I always picture bagpipes. So the cocktail for this gift is called Jack's Bagpipes. The original recipe calls for Gentleman Jack bourbon, but scotch whisky feels more appropriate to me. Use whichever you prefer.

Fill a Collins or highball glass with ice and add 2 parts whisky (bourbon or scotch) and 1 part butterscotch schnapps. Fill with ginger ale.

10 Lords a-Leaping

When I teach the "Twelve Days" song to children, I remind them that lords take small, restrained leaps, since they are elegant and important and a bit stuffy. (I couldn't find a picture of the cocktail, so enjoy instead the above image of Thomas Radcliffe, a Lord Chamberlain who looks like he would not - and possibly could not - have "leaped" if his life depended on it.) The Lord Chamberlain cocktail seems a rather apt cocktail, given that description.

In a shaker over ice, combine 2 parts brandy, 1 part port, 1 part dry vermouth, and a dash or two of bitters. Serve in a chilled martini glass and garnish with a lemon twist, being sure to squeeze a bit of juice into the drink.

9 Ladies Dancing

The first "lady" themed cocktail that came to mind was a Pink Lady, but a bit of research revealed that there is a lovely gin cocktail called a White Lady that seems much more appropriate for the Christmas season.

In a shaker over ice, combine 2 parts gin, 1 part Cointreau, and 1 part lemon juice. Serve in a chilled cocktail glass without garnish.

8 Maids a-Milking
The White Christmas cocktail uses both white creme de cacao and white chocolate liqueur to create a creamy, icy white treat.

Coat the edge of a martini glass with honey or white chocolate liqueur and dip in sanding sugar. Place in freezer until ready to serve. In a shaker over ice, combine 2 parts vanilla vodka, 2 parts white chocolate liqueur, 1 part white creme de cacao, and 1 part cream. Shake vigorously and serve in prepared glass.

7 Swans a-Swimming

After the movie "Black Swan" was nominated for a boatload of Oscars in 2011 (including Best Picture and Best Director noms, and a Best Actress win for Natalie Portman), there were dozens of recipes for Black Swan cocktails. Since the simplest is often the best, here is one of the simpler versions.

In a shaker over ice, combine 3 parts vodka with 1 part Chambord (or black raspberry liqueur of choice). Add a splash of lemon juice if you like. Serve in a chilled martini glass with a black raspberry garnish.

6 Geese a-Laying
If you want to get really fancy, you can grab one of those eggs that goose was a-laying and make eggnog from scratch to use in the Eggnog Martini, but I find that the kind from a carton tastes just as good and is a lot less work.

In a shaker over ice, combine 5 parts eggnog, 2 parts Grey Goose vanilla vodka, and 1 part amaretto. Garnish with nutmeg or cinnamon. (You can also substitute any brand of vanilla vodka or any brand of plain vodka plus a splash of Tuaca, but it's much more thematic if you use Grey Goose.)

5 Gold Rings
When I think of gold and cocktails, I immediately think of Goldschlager, with its elegant floating gold flakes, and the Academy Award cocktail. If you're not a big fan of cinnamon, don't get a whole bottle; five nips would be just about right.

Wet the edge of a chilled martini glass apple juice and dip it in sanding sugar (gold, if you have it), then return to freezer until ready to pour. In a shaker over ice, combine 2 parts apple juice, 1 part butterscotch schnapps, and a generous splash of Goldschlager. Serve in prepared glass.

4 Calling Birds
A Yellow Bird was just too obvious for #4 (and besides, I don't like banana), and since you already have a few nips of Goldschlager on hand, I opted for the '57 T-Bird instead.

In a shaker over ice, combine 2 parts vodka, 2 parts Goldschlager, 1 part cherry syrup (or grenadine), and a splash of Tabasco (how big a splash you use is entirely up to you). Serve with a lemon twist.

3 French Hens
I went for the obvious here and chose a French Martini. Ina Garten uses vermouth in place of lemon juice, but although she's never steered me wrong, I'm sticking with lemon juice.

In a shaker over ice, combine 3 parts vodka, 2 parts pineapple juice, a splash of lemon juice (or vermouth), and a splash of chambord. Serve with a lemon twist.

2 Turtledoves
Emphasizing the "turtle" in turtledove, this sweet Turtle Martini borrows the flavors of chocolate, caramel, and nuts from pecan turtle candies.

In a shaker over ice, combine 3 parts vodka with one part each creme de cacao, butterscotch schnapps, and amaretto, and top with a splash of cream. If you want to get really fancy (and even sweeter), drizzle a chilled martini glass with chocolate and/or caramel sauce before pouring and garnish with your favorite chopped nuts.

A Partridge in a Pear Tree

The Breath of Fresh Pear from Del Frisco's steakhouse in Boston became a favorite of mine the first time I had it, and they were happy to share their recipe. It seems perfect for representing the last (or is it the first?) gift in this series.

In a shaker over ice, combine 2-1/2 oz pear vodka, 1 oz Cointreau (or triple sec), and 1-3/4 oz white cranberry juice. Serve in a chilled martini glass and garnish with a thin slice (or two, or three) of pear.


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Friday, December 16, 2016

The 12 Days of Christmas

My family has had several opportunities this season to sing one of our favorite Christmas carols, "The 12 Days of Christmas." Of course, our family being quite dramatic, we don't just sing it, we act it out. For example, we flap our wings as "two turtledoves" and our beaks as "four calling birds," we pirouette gracefully as "nine ladies dancing," and we tootle our flutes as "eleven pipers piping." So I thought it might be fun to write a blog inspired by this particular carol. But what, exactly? Someone always writes up an annual cost analysis of the whole set of gifts (according to Forbes, this year's cost is $34,363.49), so that was out. Other writers have analyzed the list for secret hidden messages (ABC Sydney's theory is that it was "a secret teaching tool for Catholics during the 18th and 19th century"). Yet others have published lists of themed gifts to go along with each day (Partridge Family DVDs and pear jam, gold napkin rings, a dance video game, etc.). So where do I go with this theme?

Back to my "where to find beautiful and unusual ornaments" blog, of course! Below is my list of some of the most beautiful Christmas ornaments that go along with each gift in "The Twelve Days of Christmas". And if you find a single design you like, most of these ornaments are part of a complete series of all twelve gifts.

A Partridge in a Pear Tree
This 8" tall ornament is beautifully hand painted and comes with a gift box suitable for both gift giving and safe storage. I love the details of the large pear at the base, the tiny bow around the partridge's neck, and the green bow and trailing silver streamers at the base. $40 from Patience Brewster. 

Two Turtledoves
This pair of cast pewter turtledoves stands 2-1/4" high. Sweetly touching beaks, the sit atop a graceful cascade of leaves and berries. $17.50 from Silver & Pewter Gifts.

Three French Hens
This gorgeous Waterford crystal ornament is etched with the image of three French hens and a pair of crossed holly leaves, and the bottom is finished to match their Lismore line of glassware. This ornament is sure to add a festive twinkle to your tree. $69.99 from Bed Bath & Beyond.

Four Calling Birds
This painted glass bauble was designed by artist Susan Winget for Ne'qwa Art. A cheerful bluebird warbles happily, perched on a fir branch adorned with pinecones and red berries. $26.99 from City Lights Collectibles.

Five Gold Rings
This 2-1/2" sterling silver ornament by Carrs of Sheffield bears five interlocking gold rings on each side and dangles from a festive red ribbon. $59 from Beverly Bremer.

Six Geese A-Laying
This elegant 3-1/4" high Canada goose sits on a golden nest and lays a gold egg with a 6 on it in dark gold script. This ornament is part of a dated 2016 series. $12.95 from Hallmark.

Seven Swans A-Swimming
This 3-1/4" ceramic oval bears the image of seven swans lazily swimming down a peaceful river through the woods. It can be personalized with a photo or message on the reverse side and hangs from a gold cord. $18.95 from Zazzle.

Eight Maids A-Milking
This hanging figurine from Waterford wears a traditional kerchief and dress, with her sleeves rolled up as she totes two milk buckets. This ornament is part of a discontinued 2002 series so not all ornaments in the series may be available. $84.48 from Amazon

Nine Ladies Dancing
This hand-painted Glitterazzi ornament series from Poland features a traditional Santa Claus/Father Christmas type figure with his robe adorned by images of each gift. In this case, he holds a star topping a decorated Christmas tree on the front of his robe and the nine ladies dancing adorn the back. $70 from Joy to the World Collectibles.

Ten Lords A-Leaping
This 3", hand-crafted, multi-layered wooden ornament is cut from "blue-stained beetle kill pine" and features leaping lords in tricorn hats, waistcoats, and hose, with elegant ruffled jabots. $9.99 from Tradeworks.

Eleven Pipers Piping

This approximately 3" round porcelain ornament is also available in oval, square, and star shapes (round and square also available with silver edging), and features the lyrics of the verse as well as a picture of a piper surrounded by flowering vines. It can be personalized with a photo or message on the back. $13.70 from Zazzle.

Twelve Drummers Drumming

This 6" tall vintage-style glass drummer is festooned with tiny glittering gold details, from the trim on his hat and jacket to the tension rods on the drum. He also bears a tag with the number "12" on it, to help out those of us who can never remember whether drummers or pipers come first. $90 from Reed and Barton.

Please note that if you were to purchase all the figurines listed, the price (not including shipping) would be a cool $513.55, significantly less than the above-referenced $34K and change for the actual items. But if that's too pricey for you, you can simply purchase a full set of coordinated ornaments. All the sets below are priced as a set of all 12 ornaments.

Complete Sets
This set of 3" cloisonne baubles are highlighted with gold wire and brightly-colored enamel. Each bauble is accented with leaves, berries, and flowers in addition to a gold number and the picture of the "gift of the day". $299.99 from Wayfair.

This series of more traditionally-styled 2-1/2" red baubles from artist Kurt Adler are beautifully detailed and each one has glittery gold highlights in the image as well as a large gold number. $40.99 from Overstock.

These multi-colored baubles designed by artist Li Bien are hand-painted from the inside with a special L-shaped brush. Each features a large number plus a smaller image of each gift. $79.96 from Pier One.

This antique-style set of hand-painted glass ornaments features a numbered drop dangling from either a round bauble with the gift of the day perched on top or, in the case of the French hen and the gold rings, the gift IS the bauble. $119 from Pottery Barn.

Now, don't you think your tree could use a few more ornaments? Like, twelve, perhaps?

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