Category Archives: Jewish Holidays

Ultimate Potato Latkes

platter of latkesI realize that Chanukah ended last week and I’m a little late to the party, but you may forgive me when you find out that I am sharing the ultimate latke recipe with you. So, if you only make latkes once a year, do yourself a favour and bookmark these for next December. You will thank me!

The first time I posted about potato latkes on this blog Taylor Swift was dating  Jake Gyllenhaal. The second time, a month later, Taylor and Jake were still being spotted canoodling in public.  The third time I posted about latkes, Taylor was keeping company with Harry Styles. My final latke posting was last November and Taylor was trying to make Harry Styles jealous by stepping out with Douglas Booth.

From the above paragraph you might conclude that: a) For a woman over the age of 50, I have an inappropriate fascination with Taylor Swift. (Sadly true!), and, b) I also have an unhealthy love of potato latkes (also, sadly true).

I used to believe that I had the very best latke recipe. And then I tried the Cook’s Illustrated version and discovered that I was wrong! These latkes were light, not at all heavy or greasy. The outer crust was crunchy to the point of almost shatteringly crisp and insides were creamy, tender and pillowy soft. These are everything that all self respecting latkes aspire to be.

Leave it to Cook’s Illustrated to crack the code and perfect the latke.  A typical tuber contains 80% water by weight! The secret, it seems, is to rid the potato of as much of it’s water content as possible. This means a little extra work to squeeze out all the moisture that potatoes exude, but trust me, the effort is worth it.

Russet potatoes are the best variety to use. Grating them by hand on a box grater will give you the best texture. Just scrub the potatoes. No need to even peel the potatoes, just scrub well.gratingThe grated potatoes are mixed with a small grated onion and some salt. The mixture is transferred to a tea towel and all the moisture is wrung out. Let the drained liquid sit for 5 minutes and all the potato starch will sink to the bottom of the bowl. Drain off the liquid and save the starch. This starch is what will hold your latkes together. No need to add any additional flour or matzoh meal.sqeezing out liquidThe potato mixture gets heated in the microwave for 2 minutes. This allows the potatoes to release even more moisture and assists in making the latkes crispier and prevents them from becoming greasy by absorbing too much oil. microwavefrying

Click here to print recipe for Ultimate Potato Latkes.

stack of latkes

Triple Coconut Macaroons

pyramid 2 625 sqThese are my absolute favourite macaroons. That’s macaroon, with 2 o’s – the coconut variety, not the pain-in-the-ass Diva, ground almond and meringue variety, which are macarons, with one o. This recipe for Triple Coconut Macaroons, comes from Cook’s Illustrated Magazine. I have been making these since the recipe first came out in 2000. Why I have waited so long to share with you is a mystery to me. I promise you, I’m reallly not a petty person.

Although I could make them any time of year, I always associate coconut macaroons with Passover. As a child we bought our macaroons from Open Window Bakery in Toronto. They made both vanilla and chocolate coconut macaroons. I preferred the simplicity of the vanilla ones. I found the chocolate ones too chocolatey for me. The cocoa powder masked the flavour of the coconut, which is exactly the point of coconut macaroons. I always felt sorry for those families that had to get their macaroon fix from the can. They were gummy and chewy, in short, just awful.
00091_chocolatemacaroons_10coconut macaroons in can
The quintessential coconut macaroon is slightly crunchy on the outside and chewy in the middle, without being gluey. They should be sweet, but not cloyingly so, and they should be bursting with shreds of sweetened coconut. A final dip in a melted chocolate bath, to cover the lower third of the macaroon would not be a bad thing.
in polka dot bowl
Cook’s Illustrated’s test kitchen discovered that the choice of coconut in the macaroon makes a big difference in both taste and texture. Unsweetened shredded coconut, which is drier than sweetened, solved the gluey texture issue.  Sweetened shredded coconut packed more flavor than unsweetened, and together they worked very well. To add one more layer of coconut flavor, they tried cream of coconut and cracked the coconut macaroon code.

Cream of coconut, is not to be confused with coconut cream or coconut milk. Here is a little coconut product primer:
coconut milkcream of coconutKTC-Creamed-Coconut-Big
Coconut cream is very similar to coconut milk but contains less water. Coconut cream is made by simmering equal parts of shredded coconut and water until frothy,  then straining the mixture through a cheesecloth, squeezing out as much liquid as possible; this is coconut milk. The coconut milk is refrigerated and allowed to set. Coconut cream is the thick non-liquid part that separates and rises to the top of the coconut milk.

Cream of coconut is coconut cream that has been sweetened. It is used most commonly in piña coladas. This is the one you want for this recipe. I usually find it in Asian supermarkets, although some larger stores carry it in the drinks aisle.

Creamed coconut is a compressed block of coconut flesh which has been slightly dehydrated and sold in a waxy lump.

This recipe does contain corn syrup, so if you keep strictly Kosher for Passover, here is a recipe for a corn syrup alternative.

Lately, there has been much written about the evils of high fructose corn syrup. This is not the same as the regular corn syrup you buy for baking. If you are at all concerned and want to know more about the science behind it, this article clears up the confusion.

The canned cream of coconut has liquid at the bottom, so it is best to empty it out into a bowl and mix it up with a spoon before measuring and adding to the batter.
Adding cream of coconutadding coconut
The batter should be chilled for about 15 minutes before shaping macaroons. here is a video demonstrating how to shape them.

The chocolate should be chopped fairly fine. I melt about 3/4 of it in the microwave on medium power. When it is totally melted, stir in the remaining 1/4 of chocolate. This is a quick and dirty tempering method but it works quite well.chopping milk chocolatemelting milk chocolateadding second amount of chocolate
I like to dip the bottom third of the cookies in chocolate.
dippingput on parchment


Click here to print recipe for Triple Coconut Macaroons.

in polka dot bowl


Challah Monkey Bread and Goldilocks

Shabbat dinner at our house just got a whole bunch more fun this week. piece removed 2If you have never heard of monkey bread, let me enlighten you. Essentially it is a yeast dough that is rolled into small balls, dipped in melted butter, then rolled in sugar and cinnamon and layered in a Bundt pan to rise. As it spends time in the oven, the little balls fuse together like  pieces of an interlocking puzzle-cake. Once it is baked, everyone pulls off the little balls of delicious dough with their hands and pops them in their mouth. As much fun to make as it is to eat. More fun than a barrel of monkeys!

How it got the name, “monkey bread” is up for debate. Some say that since monkeys are known for pulling at everything, when humans pull the warm butter drenched, cinnamon and sugar coated balls of baked dough off the finished loaf, we resemble a bunch of monkeys. Others have suggested that the way it is eaten, torn, piece by piece off the loaf resembles how monkeys pick at their food. Whatever the explanation, monkey bread is irresistible.

When I opened my inbox earlier this month and saw that Alexandra Penfold at Serious Eats was struck by the genius idea to create monkey bread from challah dough, I knew I had to try it. I make challah every week. My favourite challah dough is made with 2/3 all-purpose white flour and 1/3 whole wheat flour. Alexandra said that bread flour is best for making this version, so I followed her recipe. My mom was visiting me this week, so we made it together. I made the dough on Thursday and stuck it in the fridge for a slow overnight rise. You can make this all in one day if you like, but I find it easier to make the dough a day or two ahead of time and let it sit in the fridge until the day I want to serve it.

The dough gets divided into 64 pieces and then each piece is rolled into a ball. My mom has lots of patience for these kinds of projects. It would also be a perfect thing to do with kids! My daughter wants to make it with me when she comes to visit later this month.dividing dough

rolling into ballsThen each little dough ball is plunged into a bath of warm melted butter, followed by a dip into a tub of brown sugar and cinnamon.dipping in butter and sugar-cinnamonThe challah dough balls are then layered in a greased bundt pan. ready for oven 2After a 90 minute rise, the bread is ready for the oven. Once baked, it needs to cool for a bit before you can turn it out of the pan and cover it in cinnamon bun type of icing.icing

close up of insideThe monkey bread elicited lots of oohs and aaahs as I brought it to the table. We made the blessing on the challah monkey bread and then everyone tore into it. If you envision the best part of a cinnamon bun, that gooey center bit of dough, then you will understand the genius behind monkey bread. Each piece of monkey bread that you rip off is coated in that perfect sticky goo! After dinner, I left the remainder of the bread on the counter. It was gone by morning. I suspect we may have been visited by a barrel of monkeys in the middle of the night.all icedThrilled as I was by the results, I was a little disappointed that the finished bread was a bit squat, not tall and majestic as I had hoped. I suspected that Alexandra used a smaller sized Bundt pan. I used a standard 12 cup Bundt pan.  So, I did a little research and discovered that there is a smaller size Bundt pan, a 6 cup size. I ordered the smaller one and made a second challah monkey bread.

I used my challah dough in this version. The smaller pan filled up quite nicely.small pan ready for ovenAs the bread was baking, and filling the house with the insanely delicious aroma of cinnamon and brown sugar, I decided to take a peek into the oven. Ooops!pan too smallI failed to take into account that the dough would continue to rise. I felt like Goldilocks in the Three bears story. The first pan was too big for the dough. The second pan was too small. Then I emailed Alexandra to find out what size pan she used. Apparently there is a 9 inch silicone Bundt pan that holds 10 cups… just right!

The overflowing disaster monkey bread disapppeared just as quickly as the first one. The feedback I got was that everyone preferred the softer texture of the dough made from the all purpose flour and whole wheat flour combo dough, over the chewier texture from the bread flour dough. I did briefly consider ordering the 9 inch pan and remaking it a third time so my photo would be perfect for this post. My family told me that as much as they loved the Challah Monkey Bread, a third one in the span of one week was just too much fun for them to handle.

Click here to print recipe for Challah Monkey Bread.

If you are curious and would like to try Alexandra’s bread flour Challah Monkey Dough, click here.

Thanksgivukkah. Some new traditions for a new holiday.

sandwich 3 with textIt’s always a good day when I can learn a new word! Last week I learned the word Portmanteau. A portmanteau or portmanteau word is a combination of two or more words and their definitions, into one new word. For example; Bootylicious, from booty and delicious, chillax, from chill and relax and jeggings, from jeans and leggings. Jeggings by the way are not pants. Your booty must be covered if you insist on wearing them. (Sorry, just a little side rant!)

The newly coined portmanteau word of Thanksgivukkah was celebrated this past Thursday. I just love the fact that the word was actually coined by a Jewish mom, living in Boston. As you may have heard, this past Thursday, the American holiday of Thanksgiving collided with the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.  Sort of a secular-religious mashup. The last time this happened was in 1889. It will not occur again until 79811! In case you are wondering why this does not happen every year, it is not because Jews are poor timekeepers. The Huffington Post did a brilliant job of explaining.

“The reason for this year’s rare alignment has to do with quirks of two calendars, the Gregorian and Jewish calendars. Much of the world follows the Gregorian calendar, which has a 365-day year based on the Earth’s orbit around the sun, with leap years every four years. The Gregorian calendar was implemented by Pope Gregory to keep Easter in line with the season it was originally celebrated in.

But the Jewish calendar, which was created more than 2,000 years ago, follows the waxing and waning of the moon. That calendar has 12 months of roughly 30 days each, which works out to a bit more than 354 days in a year. As a result, the Jewish year creeps earlier and earlier relative to the Gregorian calendar. But many Jewish holidays, such as Passover, are tied to seasons such as spring.

To keep holidays in line with their seasons, the Jewish calendar includes an entire extra month in seven of every 19 years. This year is a leap year, so Hanukkah and all of the other Jewish holidays came especially early in 2013. And Thanksgiving, which falls on the fourth Thursday in November, happened to come extra late this year, allowing for the convergence.”

I actually had to read that explanation 3 times before I understood it, but not to worry, this is not the main focus of this post. I wanted to spend a little time writing about the difference between Canadian and American Thanksgiving.

Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October. Americans celebrate it on the fourth Thursday in November. When I was growing up, our family, and most of the other Jewish families I knew did not even celebrate Thanksgiving. It was just a welcome day off school and work. I’m not sure why we never celebrated it. Perhaps because it was usually so close to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and by the time it rolled around, we were holidayed out.

Canadian Thanksgiving is based on European harvest celebrations. It is our way of saying thanks for the the bounty of the harvest and giving us enough food to last through the cold winter. American Thanksgiving is based on a tradition of remembering and paying tribute to the pilgrims.

While Americans may celebrate louder and larger, Canadians were actually the first to celebrate Thanksgiving. English explorer Martin Frobisher is widely credited with hosting the first Canadian Thanksgiving. In 1578, he and his crew were out at sea searching for the Northwest Passage to the Orient. Although they did not find it on this particular journey, (they arrived instead in Newfoundland) they celebrated their safe arrival to the New World. And no one can celebrate like Newfoundlanders! After all, they invented screech. The first American   Thanksgiving (1621 in Plymouth, Massachusetts) was not celebrated until 43 years after the first Canadian celebration.

The foods that Canadians and Americans celebrate Thanksgiving with are basically similar, except that the milk which Canadians mix into their mashed potatoes comes from a bag and is served with an extra pinch of politeness.

I do believe that both Canadians and Americans experience simmering cranberry sauce and emotions over their respective holiday weekends. There is nothing like an extended family gathering to bring out all kinds of feelings and arguments over pie and other such nonsense.

My husband and I had planned to be in Florida for American Thanksgiving this year. Our oldest son and daughter decided to join us for the weekend. About a month before the holiday my daughter sent me this link. We started planning how we would celebrate our first Thanksgivukkah. Since we were not arriving in Florida until 1:00 pm on Thursday afternoon, shopping and cooking an entire dinner from scratch was out of the question. We ordered  Turkey dinner and all the fixings from Whole Foods and decided to supplement with homemade sweet potato latkes.

As I am still in a cast and using crutches, the cooking fell to my husband, daughter and son. My daughter was in awe that applesauce was so simple to make. Basically, apples and a bit of water get cooked in a covered pot until soft and then mashed with a fork. You could get fancy and add cinnamon and other spices but we kept it basic.cutting applesapples uncookedapples cooked 2We started off making straight sweet potato latkes, but because they exude very little starch, they did not hold together very well. We then moved on to a hybrid latke, using a combo of starchy baking potatoes and sweet potatoes. We mixed in some grated onion, a couple of beaten eggs, a bit of flour and some salt and pepper. With all the extra hands on deck, the peeling and grating went quickly and we only had one grated knuckle mishap.peeling potatoesgrating sweet potatoesgrating regular potatoesOnce the potatoes have been grated, it is important to squeeze out all the excess liquid and then let the liquid sit for about 5 minutes. All the potato starch will sink to the bottom of the bowl. Drain off the liquid and scrape that starch into the latke mixture. It will help to hold them together.starchAt last, latke perfection was achieved. Crispy on the outside and creamy and soft within. just rightWe did not set a fancy table and sit down to eat. We just gobbled up the latkes as they came out of the hot oil. One of my family members performed the sacrilgious act of dousing the latke with ketchup!! (Apparently an Ottawa tradition). the crimeOthers kept it old school and slathered them with applesauce the way God intended them to be. take a biteI will admit that by the time the latkes were cooked and eaten, we had little room and interest in eating the turkey, stuffing and gravy. There were lots of leftovers the next day, which I suspect may be the whole point of Thanksgiving anyways. Inspired by Thanksgivukkuh, we made latke sandwiches the next day. Turkey and cranberry sauce sandwiched between two sweet potato latkes. New traditions don’t get much better than this.sandwich 625 sq

Click here to print recipe for Sweet Potato Latkes.

The Truth About Chanukah and Pomegranate Sugar-Dusted White Chocolate Doughnuts.

ready to eat 3 625 sqI recently discovered that the “Miracle of Chanukah” story, is just a legend. You know the one I’m taking about, where Judah and his merry band of Maccabees go into the destroyed temple and  discover just enough oil to keep the menorah’s candles burning for a single day. But somehow, miracle of miracles, the oil lasted for eight days and the flames of the menorah burned for eight nights. When I discovered that the long lasting oil is not really at the root of the Chanukah commemoration, I felt gutted. Kind of reminiscent of coming home for winter break in first year university to discover that I was the last one in the family to find out that our dog, Heidi, had died!

“Truth” is a word to be avoided when discussing history and religion. Since the victors of a battle often write the history, the facts of what happened in the past depend very much on whom you ask and when it comes to religion, everyone has a different truth.

Chanukah is the only major Jewish holiday not explicitly mentioned in the Torah (Judaism’s written law), since the events that inspired the holiday occurred after it was written. The Rabbis wrote about Chanukah in the Talmud (Jewish oral law and tradition), but that was written over 600 years after the Maccabees revolt. Their version of Chanukah differs markedly from The Books of Maccabees written in the 2nd century B.C.E.

So we have here two versions of the Chanukah story: one from the Book of Maccabees and the other from the Talmud. Both versions agree on the first part of the story. Around 200 B.C.E., Judea (Israel) came under control of the Syrian King, Antiochus III. He was a benevolent fellow and allowed the Jews to continue practicing their religion. Things changed drastically when his son, Antiochus IV, took over.

This evil king outlawed the Jewish religion and ordered the Jews to worship Greek gods. In 168 B.C.E., his soldiers marched into Jerusalem, exterminated thousands of people and desecrated the holy Second Temple by constructing an altar to Zeus and commanded the Jews to sacrifice a pig upon this alter.

The Jewish priest Mattathias and his five sons led a large-scale rebellion against Antiochus and his army. When Mattathias died in 166 B.C.E., his son Judah Maccabee took over. Within two years, the Jews, relying on Guerrilla warfare tactics, defeated the Syrian Greek army and drove them out of Jerusalem.

The Maccabees cleansed the Second Temple, rebuilt the altar, lit its menorah and celebrated the rededication (the word Chanukah means dedication). And thus the eight-day festival of Chanukah was born.  Why eight days? Well, here’s where the story begins to diverge. According to The Book of Maccabee II, while the Maccabees were fighting, they had missed the eight-day holiday of Sukkot, (celebrated in early fall) and so to celebrate the Second Temple rededication, they declared a “better-late-than-never” celebration of Sukkot.

Version 2, as written in the Talmud gives us this spin on the eight-day festival.  Judah Maccabee and his team, who took part in the rededication of the Second Temple, witnessed what they believed to be a miracle. Even though there was only enough oil to keep the menorah’s candles burning for a single day, the flames burned for eight nights. This wondrous event inspired the Rabbis to proclaim a yearly eight-day festival.

The Rabbis barely mentioned the battle between the Maccabees and the Greeks in the Talmud. The reason for this is unclear. Perhaps they did not want to encourage the celebration of a military battle, or perhaps, as pacifists, they did not want to encourage the Jewish people, who at that time, were living under Roman rule, to be inspired by revolt.

Rabbi Andrew Jacobs, on “Blog Shalom” explains the miracle of Chanukah this way,

“…even without the oil, .Chanukah is still a miraculous story. The Maccabees were a tiny group of Jews who should not have been able to defeat the powerful Greeks.  But they did!  And because of this miracle, Judaism survived and did not become consumed by Greek culture.   This story of miraculous survival repeats itself many times throughout Jewish history.  Despite tremendous powers that have raged against us, nothing has stopped the Jewish people.  This is a miracle.”

Although the miraculous oil story may be just a legend, I refuse to give up food fried in oil on Chanukah! To celebrate my newfound knowledge, I am going to go all out this year and celebrate Chanukah with these decadent Pomegranate Sugar-Dusted White Chocolate Doughnuts.ready to eat 2 625 sqThe idea behind these doughnuts comes from the genius mind of Chef Lynn Crawford. However, after discovering that her recipe called for a pound of butter in the doughnut dough, I decided to use her white chocolate filling and pomegranate sugar coating, but looked elsewhere for the actual doughnuts. Anna Olsen‘s recipe used only  a 1/4 pound of butter. So while these doughnuts are not exactly light fare, they are lighter than originally intended by Chef Lynn!

The pomegranate sugar and white chocolate ganache filling can be prepared a day ahead.making pom sugar 1making pom sugar 2

chopping white chocolateganache mixed with whipped creamThese are yeast raised, not cake doughnuts. The dough comes together in about 5 minutes if you have a stand mixer. Thanks to a quarter pound of butter this brioche-like dough has an amazing silky texture.dough with dough hookdough before first risedough after first rise

cutting out doughnutsMy deep fryer, which normally only gets pulled out once a year to make french fries takes all the guess work out of deep frying. You can of course use a deep pot with a candy/oil thermometer to regulate the temperature.frying 1These babies puff up like little pillows. I can not accurately express the joy I experienced watching my own little miracle here in the deep fryer!frying 2Filling the doughnuts with the white chocolate ganache whipped cream is quite simple. A plain piping tip, inserted into the side of the doughnut makes easy work of the job. filling doughnuts 2filling doughnuts 1These doughnuts are really best eaten the same day they are made. I sent 16 of these beauties off with my husband to share with his hockey team after I made them one Sunday afternoon. He said that they were inhaled very quickly and that they actually brought a few of these strong burly hockey players to their knees as they gushed at how good they were.

Click here to print recipe for Pomegranate Sugar Dusted White Chocolate Doughnuts.

ready to eat 1