Flipping Latkes

My first introduction to latkes, those little patties of fried potato deliciousness, came soon after my mother and stepfather got married. I don’t remember if it was our very first December as a family, or if it was a couple of years later, but I know that Bubbie (my stepfather’s mother) spent all day making them – one of the rare times she ventured into our kitchen for anything more than hot water.

She peeled and shredded and fried for hours, and we got to eat the results.

Now, I’d thought I knew what potato pancakes were, because my grandfather, pancake guru that he was, used to make pancakes that were either part mashed potato, or part leftover baked potato (whatever was available) mixed with regular batter. I remember loving it when I bit into a chunk of potato.

But these were the real thing, the pure thing. Not just potato pancakes, but pancakes made entirely from potato (well, maybe a dash of milk, a bit of flour, seasonings, and an egg). The point is, I was expecting something more like the pancakes I’d grown up with, and less like a really tasty, far less oily (no, really) version of an Arby’s potato cake.

Bubbie never made latkes for us again – from scratch. All subsequent acknowledgements of Hanukkah involved help from the nice people at Manischewitz and their onion-flavored mix (it comes in gluten free, too). We still had applesauce and sour cream, but there was a lot less work.

Since then, I’ve made latkes from scratch exactly once, and let me assure you that once was absolutely enough. I cheated and used a food processor, but then, who wouldn’t? (I also had a minion who did a good portion of the peeling, showing off his skills with a paring knife in the process. Never, ever, try to make latkes for a couple of dozen people without the assistance of a minion. This is essential.

I’m not Jewish, but that doesn’t mean I can’t like Jewish foods (I’m not Thai, Lebanese, Greek, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Indian, French or Cajun either, but I like all of those foods – I’m a polyglot when it comes to cuisine.), so last year I bought a couple of boxes of latke mix. I made some at home, and brought the rest with me when we went to visit my parents in Mexico. I don’t remember if it was Christmas night (because we’d had a huge brunch and weren’t hungry until pretty late at night), or one of the others, but we had a lovely late-night supper of latkes with applesauce, sour cream, and smoked salmon, while binge watching Call the Midwife on Netflix.

I haven’t bought any mix this year, but I might, because potato pancakes are a flavor I really love, and even though it’s unseasonably warm, it is December. Tonight, in fact, is the first night of Hanukkah, which is why I’m writing about flipping lattes. (It’s way easier to do than making crepes.). Maybe I’ll even serve them with smoked salmon again.

In the meantime, I’m nursing a cold, so I’m going to curl up in bed with tea and a good book.

 

Holidailies 2015

Grandpa K’s Turkey, Stuffing, and Gravy Recipe

I originally posted this on 22 November 2006, and I have the original, typed, hardcopy provided by my grandfather, but I like to re-post it from time to time. Therefore, I present this again, in case anyone needs it, and because (American) Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away.

Turkey, Stuffing and Gravy Recipe
by Edward F. Klindienst

INGREDIENTS

  • Turkey and giblets
  • 1/2 to 1 lb. bacon (sliced)
  • 8 medium or 6 large onions
  • 1 bunch celery
  • 8 apples
  • 2 oranges or tangerines
  • 1 loaf stuffing bread (unflavored, pullman size)
  • Salt, pepper, and pumpkin pie spice
  • Optional: Cider or wine for stuffing

UTENSILS

  • Roasting pan (large turkey size)
  • Rack to fit inside pan
  • Aluminum foil (wide)
  • Collander
  • Basting syringe
  • Stock pot, 2qt or larger
  • Large pot (optional, about 6qt)
  • Frying pan with fitted lid
  • Steel skewers (4 inch) [Turkey lacing kit]
  • Knives, peeler, etc.
  • PROCEDURE
    Note: The following procedure, and the list of ingredients are the basic recipe. After you have tried it once or twice, try some modifications – change the flavoring, adjust the quantities, add things like mushrooms, raisins, a dash of garlic, let your palate be your guide…enjoy it.
  • STUFFING MIX
    • Bacon: Lay bacon on cutting board and cut across the slices in 1/4 inch strips. Fry the bacon in covered fry pan over low heat.
    • Onions: Peel and chop all but two of the onions. Place chopped onions in fry pan with bacon. Keep covered. Place remaining two onions in stock pot.
    • Celery: Cut the butt off the celery and place butt in stock pot. Separate and wash the stalks, save the tender heart for the table, chop remainder and add to fry pan. Put leaves and trimmings of celery in stock pot.
    • Apples: Peel and core apples. Add peels and cores to stock pot. Slice apples into fry pan and cover.
    • Flavoring: Add two level teaspoons salt, 1/8 teaspoon black pepper (or less, according to taste) and two generous teaspoons pumpkin pie spice to fry pan, stir well, cover and let simmer till apples reach consistency of apple sauce.

    Note: The less lifting of the fry pan lid, the juicier the stuffing mix.
  • THE BIRD
    • Remove neck and giblets from cavity.
    • Remove skin from neck. Discard skin. Add neck to stock pot.
    • Remove fat from heart and gizzard. Place heart, tail (if present) and gizzard in stock pot.
    • Do not add liver to stock pot, either discard it, or cook it and feed it to the dog (or cat).
    • Wash the beast in cold water, inside and out, both cavities. Remove all inedible items, if any. Remove any pin feathers left in the skin. Set the bird aside, let it thaw.
  • THE STOCK POT
    • Cover the contents of the stock pot with water and place over high heat till it boils, then reduce to medium or lower heat (just enough to sustain slow boiling).
    • Add remaining onions while waiting for the boil.
    • Cut oranges or tangerines in halves, squeeze juice into stock pot, and drop in the rest.
    • Add 1/2 teaspoon salt./li>
    • Add water as necessary to keep contents covered.
    • Cook till meat is loose on neck bones. When cooked, lift out meat (neck, heart, gizzard, and tail) set aside for “picking.”
    • Strain contents of stock pot through collander, pressing out all fluid. Save fluid for basting, discard pulp.


Note: Experimentation with flavoring at this point also pays dividends.
The basting fluids become the gravy.

  • BREAD
    • Cut bread into 1/2 inch cubes, including crust.
    • Place in roasting pan and bake in hot oven till dry and slightly brown, stirring occasionally. (A bag of unflavored croutons can be substituted for the bread.)
    • When bread is ready, pour into large pot, and add contents of fry pan. Mix thoroughly. If too dry, add fluid from stock pot, or a cup of cider, or after some experience, a cup of wine. (Caution is recommended with the wine, but the results are worth the trouble sometimes.) [MissMeliss says: I recommend the cider, actually, but if you do use wine, I’ve had great results with gamay beaujolais.)]
    • Any stuffing left over after bird is stuffed (both cavities) can be baked in a pie pan [MissMeliss says: We make extra on purpose.], etc. When both cavities are filled, close with skewers, and lace with clean string.
  • ROASTING PAN AND FOIL
    • Use two long pieces of foil (long enough to wrap over the turkey and the supporting rack).
    • Lay one piece across the pan lengthwise and press into bottom of pan.
    • Lay second piece crosswise and press down.
    • Place rack inside the foil. Place bird on rack.
    • Pour one cup of basting fluid from stock pot over bird. Wrap foil over top of bird, completely covering bird.
    • [MissMeliss says: By wrapping it this way, the roasting pan (if you’re not using a disposable one) is easier to clean, and the bird is easier to unwrap for basting.]
  • ROASTING
    • Preheat oven to 450(f).
    • Place bird in oven so it is approximately centered.
    • After 1/2 hour, reset thermostat to 350(f).
    • Cooking time on given on wrapper of the beast is usually reliable, if the bird is completely thawed.
    • If not thawed when placed in oven, fork testing is required. Beast is cooked when fork can be pushed into the flesh easily and withdrawn easily. Testing points are at the base of the wing (shoulder), thigh, and carcass under thigh (any place where meat is thick). [MissMeliss says: I know it’s trendy to cook turkey by internal temperature. The pop-up thing in a butterball is a guideline, not a rule, and the turkeys I use rarely have timers embedded. I never cook by temperature, just by fork testing – the juices should run CLEAR, btw – and I’ve never had an underdone bird or killed anyone.]
  • BASTING
    • Basting is IMPORTANT to flavor of bird, more so to flavor of gravy
    • At the end of each hour of baking , open foil and baste. Four or five syringe-fulls of basting fluid should be poured over the bird.
    • All fluid should then be picked up from bottom of pan and returned to the stock pot.
    • Then fill syringe twice and pour over bird.
    • Leave fluid in pan and close foil.
    • Return bird to oven.
    • The fluid recovered from roaster at each basting is what browns the gravy.
  • GRAVY
    • When bird is done, thicken fluid in stock pot with corn starch or flour. Amount of thickening will depend upon amount of fluid.
    • Add a little thickening at a time till desired thickness is obtained.
    • Stir well and be alert for boil-over. As soon as boiling starts, lower heat to point of slow boil. If violent boiling begins, lift pan off heat and stir vigorously.
    • Sneaky Hint: One final basting with gravy will often enhance browning of the beast.
      Sometimes produces a glazed look.

Good luck with your turkey, enjoy your meal.
Bon Appetit!!!

Chocolate

Sometimes the only cure for the blahs is chocolate, so yesterday, I baked a batch of my favorite chocolate chip cookie bars.

The base of the batter smells like butterscotch, but it’s really only sugar, egg, and vanilla. (Some people actually measure the vanilla when they bake. I find this adorable.)

I don’t bother adding chocolate chips and walnuts as a separate step. Instead I measure them into the dry ingredients, mix them together, and add the whole thing to the wet ingredients, one-third at a time.

My house is redolent of the same chocolate that flavors my husband’s kisses.

Fishing With Grandpop

Rod and Reel My friend Debra is hosting a project called Summer Love Notes (it started about ten days ago), and I’m one of the participants, which means I’ve been dwelling on memories of All Things Summer as I’ve tried to figure out what to write about.

One of my fondest childhood memories is fishing with my grandfather.

I’m not entirely certain when I became his fishing buddy, but I know I was no older than four the first time he took me to the pier. I remember the sweet scents of tar and wood, and the tang of salt in the air. I remember sitting on his tackle box, and wearing a fishing hat that would never be as weathered or as storied as his.

I remember stopping at the bait store on the way out to the fishing beach, and I remember stopping at Stewart’s for root beer ( in real glass mugs) and crinkle cut fries (in a paper boat) on the way home (served by carhops, delivered on a tray that clipped to the window).

I remember the squirmy, slippery fish flipping, flopping, and flailing on the dock once we reeled them out of the water, and I remember my grandfather knocking them out as quickly as possible.

Once we caught a dogfish (a small shark) and I remember seeing it’s teeth snapping at anything it thought it could reach. You couldn’t retrieve the hook from those and let it go, you had to dangle it from the line and snip the thread and let it fall, back into the ocean for a slow death, or into a handy trash bin for a faster one. Do fish feel pain? Do I really want to know?

Probably not.

I remember my grandfather cleaning the fish (Atlantic blue fish, most of the time) and my grandmother cooking it, serving it with fresh, steamed spinach and baked potatoes that had been wrapped in tin foil and cooked on the grill. “Watch for pins and needles,” she’d warn, referring to the bones in the fish.

What’s weird though, is that I don’t remember actually, you know, fishing. Only the activities around the actual baiting of hooks and casting of lines.

But I remember my grandfather’s hat, and his work shoes and his strong, brown hands, thick with callouses, and etched with history.

Fishing with my grandfather was one of my favorite parts of my childhood summers.

 

 

Photo Credit: juliasv / 123RF Stock Photo

Christmas Eve in La Paz: Home for Christmas

Christmas in La Paz

It’s 11:35 PM on Christmas Eve, and as I write this I’m sitting on the bed in the guest room in La Paz, BCS, where my parents live. We’re in the house they’re renting while they build a new house – probably the last house they’ll ever live in, directly across the street.

All month, as I’ve been preparing for this trip (we arrived yesterday), my mother has been telling me things like “Gari-Ellen wants to know if you’re coming to coffee with us,” or “Jesse is looking forward to having you come to his restaurant,” or, “Patricia said she’s very excited because her sister’s daughter is coming.” (Patricia, in this case, is my mother’s dear friend, and adopted sister. She’s got a heart as big as the universe and looks like Betty Boop.)

I’ve never really felt like I’ve had a hometown. I mean, there’s the town I consider home, Atlantic Highlands, N.J., because my earliest memories are there, and my family roots are there, and my mother’s first home with me was there, but I didn’t get the experience of growing up there.

I grew up in lots of places, really: New Jersey, Colorado, California. And then I’ve lived in South Dakota, California and Texas, during my marriage.

My parents moved here, to La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico in 2000, and at first visiting them never felt like home. When they moved into the house they built, I liked staying in the casita, but it felt like staying in a guest house.

I know my mother was depressed, but I never realized how much until we drove into the development where she lives now. There’s an ease about her, a lightness, that she hasn’t had in years, and that lightness has wrapped itself around her life, extending into the very walls of this house.

She calls it the “Barbie House,” because it’s tiny, but it’s not uncomfortably so – really. But rental or not, it’s the first place she’s lived in, here, that has felt like coming home.

And I realized, as I was packing, and then even more as we made the journey up the canyon, up the highway, from Cabo to La Paz, that I’ve been here, to this funky, quirky, lovely city on the Gulf of California, enough times that coming back here feels like coming home.

I didn’t grow up here, but this year, I’m not merely visiting my parents, I’ve come home for Christmas.

Ziti

Ziti

My grandmother used to sing to her African violets, pet their tender leaves, and encourage them to grow by calling them ‘pretty baby.’ She could pick up a pencil with her toes, and even after her fingers were gnarled with age and arthritis, she was a flawless knitter (though her taste in yarn was questionable).

By the time I was old enough to help in the kitchen, she did her best to avoid cooking, but I have fond memories of hamburgers cooked on the back yard grill, of sun-warmed tomatoes from my grandfather’s garden, of Jersey corn, and of being asked – as everyone was – what kind of potato they wanted (white or sweet). Whenever she ate those summer vegetables, she would pronounce them ‘luscious.’

Sometimes, she made baked ziti. Ziti is easier than lasagna because you don’t have to keep the pasta intact, but it uses similar ingredients. Sauce that simmered all day. Meatballs served with it. A blend of Parmesan, Romano, mozzarella, and provolone cheeses. Just the right combination of spices to make the flavors all pop in a complimentary fashion.

I never learned her recipe, but I remember the flavor, and over the years, my own version has come closer and closer. The cheese, I think, is what’s wrong, or maybe it’s that I usually just ‘doctor’ sauce from a jar. I remember her adding a dash of sugar to her sauce, but I think I also remember her squeezing lemon juice into it, and that memory confuses me because wouldn’t that just increase the acid?

I made Ziti tonight because the temperature was dropping and I wanted something that was comforting and would provide leftovers. As I served it, just for a moment, I thought I caught the scent of my grandmother’s perfume, just the way I sometimes wake in the night feeling certain that her cool hand was soothing my sweaty brow.

But it wasn’t really her perfume, of course.

It was just a sense memory triggered by making ziti.

Holidailies 2014

Frittata

frittata

We had leftover deli turkey, the kind with peppercorns and sundried tomatoes, and zucchini, mushrooms, and spinach that had to be used.

I found a recipe for frittata that used all those vegetables, and replaced the called-for bacon with the turkey.

It said to only use three cloves of garlic. I laughed.

I chopped, stirred, cracked, blended, and poured.

It’s in the oven now.

I’ve loved the concept of breakfast for dinner since I was a little girl. (To this day, I only go to IHOP at night, but only ever order breakfast foods.)

Comment if you want the recipe…

Thursday 13: Rainy Day Quotations

Closeup of Little Girl in Red Boots by Michael Simons

I haven’t done a Thursday 13 in a while, I started this last Thursday when it was rainy, but then I never finished it for whatever reason. It’s not rainy today, but rather, windy, so I’m going to just do weather-related quotations. Enjoy.

  1. “Rain is grace; rain is the sky descending to the earth; without rain, there would be no life.” ~John Updike
  2. “Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby.” ~Langston Hughes
  3. “Tears of joy are like the summer rain drops pierced by sunbeams.” ~Hosea Ballou
  4. “Thought is the wind, knowledge the sail, and mankind the vessel.” ~Augustus Hare
  5. “A rainy day is the perfect time for a walk in the woods.” ~Rachel Carson
  6. “There is a muscular energy in sunlight corresponding to the spiritual energy of wind.” ~Annie Dillard
  7. “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.” ~Alfred Wainright
  8. “The wind shows us how close to the edge we are.” ~Joan Didion
  9. Spooky wild and gusty; swirling dervishes of rattling leaves race by, fleeing windflung deadwood that cracks and thumps behind.” ~Dave Beard
  10. “Snow and adolescence are the only problems that disappear if you ignore them long enough.” ~Earl Wilson
  11. “Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.” ~Rabindranath Tagore
  12. “What dreadful hot weather we have! It keeps me in a continual state of inelegance.” ~Jane Austen”
  13. “What my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
    I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
    Under my head till morning; but the rain
    Is full of ghosts to-night, that tap and sigh
    Upon the glass and listen for reply…”
    ~Edna St. Vincent Millay

Image Credit: Michael Simons via 123rf.com

You say Slumgullion, I say Schlumgallian

Schlumgallion

It’s one of those days. You know the kind: when you’ve been busy doing stuff all day, and you know you’ve been productive, but you’re not really sure exactly how. It’s been one of those puttery days, when you bask in creativity and execute tasks here and there, and start projects that you don’t care if you finish – those days are lovely.

But they end in those evenings, those nights really, when you realize that, oh, damn, we actually do have to eat dinner, and payday isn’t til tomorrow so pizza is NOT an option, and anyway, we can’t really justify ordering pizza when we have a house full of ingredients.

So you improvise.

For me, improvisation in the kitchen generally begins with sauteing onion and garlic in olive oil. I mean, really, what can’t you do with onion and garlic? So we started with that. And we added some 98% lean organic grass-fed ground beef that was mostly defrosted because I remembered to take it out earlier, but not really early enough.

Oh! There are mushrooms in the fridge. We should use those.

Oh! And tomato paste, because why not? And Worcestershire sauce, because it adds bite. Hmm. This is a little young. Squeeze in some lemon. Garlic and onion powders. Italian herb blend. Merlot-infused sea salt. Freshly ground black pepper. Stir til it bubbles, but it’s not quite complete.

Go to the fridge – nothing inspiring. Beets, but they SO don’t work with this. Maybe the freezer? Jackpot! A frozen veggie blend, kept around for “emergencies” just like this one.

So you add that and you stir, and then you turn the heat way down, and put a lid on it…what else? What else? Oh, awesome! Pasta.

I have this cannister on my counter. Whenever I make a pasta dish and don’t use all the macaroni or rotini or whatever, I put the extra (dry, uncooked) pasta in the cannister (note: dear autocorrect, canNister is an acceptable spelling for this word. Use one ‘n’ or two. Both are good). Nights like tonight, that pasta gets boiled in hot water, olive oil, a little salt, and when it’s done, it goes into the tomato and beef mixture.

Voila! a meal that isn’t horribly unhealthy, and doesn’t take forever to make, either.

But what do you call it.

Well, I grew up calling it, at least phonetically, “Schlumgallian,” with the assumption it was a family-originated made-up name for “throwing the kitchen sink in a pan,” but then I learned that there’s actually a dish called “Slumgullion,” which is an Irish word and refers to a “watery beef stew.”

Feral Kitchen‘s version of Slumgullion is not really that different from what I made. You can see their recipe here.

Mine is in the image at the top of the page, but the whole point of this dish is that you can make it with whatever’s at hand.

Mixing it Up

Baking Cookies

From the time I was fourteen or fifteen years old, I’ve had this fantasy of owning a bookstore/cafe, only it wouldn’t be like the cafes nestled inside Barnes and Noble. Instead, it would be an old house, and each room would have a different theme, and matching menu. Sort of like that restaurant chain that I can’t remember the name of, where there was an African room and an Undersea room. Only in my fantasy cafe, there would be a mystery room and a science fiction room, and…well…you get the idea.

Fantasies are lovely, but the reality is that retail sucks, and the restaurant business is pretty thankless, and I prefer to let this dream remain in dreamland, indulging it, instead, by reading novels where recipes are prominent.

George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire is an example of this, but for some reason, mysteries feature food a lot more than anything else (well, the Pern books had a lot of great dishes, and Melanie Rawn’s Ambrai series…but…) and one of my favorite series is Cleo Coyle’s Coffeehouse Mysteries.

I’ve been a fan of her work (and yes, I know “Cleo Coyle” isn’t really Cleo Coyle, but that’s not the point) since the first book, and have just finished the 13th, so you can imagine how tickled I was when she sent me an autographed copy of it after I contacted her about an interview for All Things Girl. I was even MORE tickled that she enclosed a bunch of recipe cards, one of which we’re making tonight.

Well, sort of.

The recipe card was for a candy cane frosting, but obviously if you’re making frosting, you must have something to, well, frost. Now, on her website, that frosting is paired with a standard brownie (from a mix) with a bit of ‘enhancement’ optional.

I don’t buy mixes.

And I have an excellent brownie mix, but it’s much more fun to go to the Source, Herself.

So I hopped on Facebook, and took a chance, asking if she had a scratch recipe that she’d recommend.

She did. And she sent me the link.

It’s a dark chocolate brownie with chocolate chips and espresso powder and…yeah.

I’ll post a follow up tomorrow afternoon when we put everything together (we’re making the brownies tonight, but will frost them tomorrow), and I’ll share the links at that time.

Meanwhile, y’all can go to bed imagining candy cane frosting on dark chocolate brownies.

Image credit: robynmac / 123RF Stock Photo