It is getting cooler here. The leaves are changing and Halloween is any day now. It is only a matter of time for the other holidays to be creeping up around the corner. When it gets to this time of year I crave so many different things in a very random and somewhat schizophrenic manner too. But it is okay because I know it and admit it. Years ago Brian and I spent the holidays in San Francisco. We ate at a Thai restaurant for Christmas Eve and an Indian buffet for Christmas Dinner. We now always think about spicy peanut sauce, and curry on and around Christmas dinner. Living in Phoenix a friend’s family always had Tamales with their holiday dinners; even for Thanksgiving. We think of them often and crave some of them with salsas along with rice and beans. Let us not forget Pizza. A few years ago we were in London for Thanksgiving. We ended up eating pizza on that particular Thursday. There is something so appetizing about pizza or tamales, more so than the tradition of turkey.
So this morning I got up and after walking the girls, and bringing back coffee for Brian, I wandered into the kitchen to make some potato pancakes. Why potato pancakes you might ask? Well for a couple years I worked for a Kosher catering company. It was now that we would start to prep for their Hanukkah celebrations. Potato Pancakes (aka: Latkes) were always on the menu. Latkes or Potato Pancakes are delicious, scrumptious, and desirably indulgent if you ask me. When made right they are light, crispy, slightly salty, and tender. When they were making them in the catering kitchen it was not uncommon for the other pastry chef and me to sneak a few and indulge in them while sitting on top of 50# sacks of flour for a break. While I was walking the girls and breathing in the cool morning air I thought of those mornings and had to whip a batch up.
Now there is arguably many ways to eat potato pancakes. There are some I know who are die hard “Jewish Deli” traditionalists and get theirs with a side of thick sour crème to dip the pancakes into. Others I know will indulge with a smear of apple sauce across them. And if you were to ask my friend Rumi (and also the other pastry chef I worked with at this company) the best way to eat the potato pancakes was with a sprinkle of salt across them, nothing more.
As always, I tend to go a little differently as most with my palate. I prefer some apple butter and sour cream. Yes, in my opinion the rich sweetness of the apple butter mingle well with the slightly sour and rich crème on top of these crispy pancakes. But what can I say? This Italian American girl who grew up in New Jersey really did not know much about Potato Pancakes until I worked for this company. I really didn’t know about many of these foods before I left New Jersey. Now, I crave tamales, Thai spicy peanut sauce, Indian curry, and pizza; while most are eating very traditional foods. In my mind I would still love to be sitting with Brian indulging in something foreign in a faraway city, rather than eating out of tradition. I would much rather be picking up tamale from my friends mom and enjoying this Mexican tradition than cooking the same meal again and again. I would love to sit on those sacks of flour and enjoy some Latkes with Rumi as the holiday approach rather than eating something “pumpkin spiced” like most I know are during this time of year. It is always better to try new things. Just think of the new memories you create by doing so. Like the potato pancakes I shared with Brian this morning. And he agreed, the apple butter is a real nice touch!
Potato Pancakes, a.k.a. Latkes (serves 4)
3 cups of peeled and grated, Russet Potatoes (from about 2 large potatoes)
2 shallots, minced
½ cup of A.P. flour
½ tsp of baking soda
1 tsp of sea salt
Vegetable Oil for frying (*see note)
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
Sour Cream, for serving
Apple Butter, for serving (recipe below)
First, take your grated potatoes and place in a kitchen towel or a piece of cheese cloth and squeeze them over your sink. You are doing this to wring out all the excess moisture. Keep squeezing until the potatoes are quite dry. This is important because it is what makes the pancakes light, skipping this step will result in a soggy pancake.
Next, place your grated potatoes in a bow. Over the potatoes sprinkle the flour, baking soda, and sea salt. Toss it well to coat the potatoes. To this add your eggs and stir until mixture is combined.
Then, place a large frying pan over medium heat. Once pan is warmed through, poor about ¼ inch of oil in the pan.
Finally, gently place about a ¼ cup full of your potato mixture into your hot oil. Slightly flatten the mixture, and once the edges are golden and browned you can flip to pancake to cook on the other side. Once both sides are golden and firm place on a paper towel lined plate to drain. Sprinkle with some sea salt and black pepper and serve while still warm.
*Note: when frying I like to use rice or peanut oil. Both have a high smoke point and a clean flavor. But if you prefer another kind that is fine too, just keep in mind an oil like olive oil can burn and smoke easily if it gets too hot.
Apple Butter (makes about 1 ½ cup)
4 medium apples, Pink Lady or Honey Crisp work well
¾ cup of sugar
2 tbsp of honey
1 cup of dry white wine
½ tsp of cinnamon
½ tsp of vanilla extract
First, peel and core your apples. Chop the apples into 1 inch pieces and place in a medium sized pot. Over the apples pout the sugar, honey, wine, cinnamon, and vanilla. Stir it well. If needed, you can add a bit of water to the mixture as you want the apples to be almost covered by liquid.
Next, place the pot over a medium heat and stir it frequently until it starts to simmer. Once it is simmering, you should lower the heat a bit. Continue to simmer the apples stirring them frequently. You are looking for the apples to become tender, somewhat caramelized, and most of the liquid cooked out of it.
Then, remove the apples from the heat and let it cool for a bit. Once cooled puree the mixture until smooth. If there is a lot of liquid in your puree or the puree is “runny” you can place it back in a pot and over low heat. You will want to stir the mixture constantly until the majority of the liquid has evaporated and the mixture has thickened. Once it is there re-move from the heat.
Finally, when your puree is ready you can place in in a clean jar or container and refrigerate it until ready to use. Apple Butter will keep up to a month.