Celebrating Christmas and Chanukah: Best of Both Worlds
We kids from non-observant Jewish families were always the lucky ones at holiday time. We got presents for Chanukah and for Christmas. My son has it both ways too. We light the candles every night during the Jewish holiday (though the presents only appear at the beginning and the end) but we also love our Christmas tree, which goes up about a week before Christmas and stays there until the New Year. Santa never really cared that we were Jewish – he likes the cookies and milk we still leave for him on Christmas Eve too much — though my more observant friends have looked askance at the tree.
As for food, like everybody else celebrating Chanukah I’ll be making potato latkes. My recipe is based on one by Wolfgang Puck, that I tested and loved when I worked on his book “Wolfgang Puck Makes It Easy.” I’ll serve it with smoked salmon and a smoked trout purée, applesauce and sour cream.
Meanwhile, I’m already beginning my Christmas baking. Tart shells and sponge cake for my Christmas trifle are going into the freezer so that I can get a jump on Christmas dinner. Last year during this season I was busy testing pastry chef Jacquy Pfeiffer’s cookie recipes for his upcoming cookbook, “The Art of French Pastry,” so I had plenty to put on and under the tree. This year I’ll make his Christmas sablés and his coconut rochers, which are like mini coconut macaroons. I’ll eat Christmas dinner at the home of close friends, as I always do, and make Yorkshire pudding to go with their roast. I’ll use the recipe I grew up on, from the splattered page 591 of Mildred O. Knopf’s all-but-forgotten classic, “Cook, My Darling Daughter.”
Potato Latkes with Smoked Trout Purée
These latkes are based on Wolfgang Puck’s recipe. He serves his with whitefish. I serve mine with smoked salmon and with the smoked trout puree that follows.
1 pound russet potatoes, peeled
1 small onion, peeled
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Cooking oil, such as canola, peanut or safflower
1. Using the large holes of a box grater/shredder, or the medium grating disk on a food processor, shred the potatoes into a mixing bowl. Grate in the onion.
2. Line a large bowl with a clean kitchen towel. Transfer the mixture to the towel-lined bowl, twist the towel around it and squeeze out as much liquid as you can (alternatively you can pick the mixture up by handfuls and squeeze dry). Transfer to another bowl.
3. Add the egg, flour, baking powder, salt and pepper. Stir with a fork until well blended.
4. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the latke mixture into a ¼-cup measure and reverse onto the parchment. Repeat with the remaining mixture.
5. Meanwhile, heat about ¼ inch of oil in a large, heavy skillet or in an electric fryer set at 350 F, until it ripples and feels quite hot when you hold your hand over it. Carefully slide an offset spatula underneath a mound of latke mixture and place in the pan. Press down on the mixture with a spatula to form an evenly thick pancake about 3 inches in diameter. Add more latkes, taking care not to overcrowd the skillet. Cook the pancakes until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side, turning them over carefully with a slotted metal spatula. Transfer to a tray or platter lined with paper towels or a rack to drain. Continue with the remaining mixture. If not serving right away, allow to cool completely. When ready to serve, preheat the oven to 400 F. Place the potatoes on a baking sheet and heat in the oven until crisp, about 10 minutes.
6. Serve with sour cream, drained yogurt or crème fraîche and smoked salmon or the trout spread below. Also serve with applesauce.
Smoked Trout Spread
Makes about 1½ cups, serving 10
½ pound smoked trout (without bones or skin)
2 tablespoons crème fraîche or drained yogurt (more to taste)
1 tablespoon cream cheese (can use reduced fat)
1 to 3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice (more to taste)
1. Place the smoked trout in a food processor fitted with the steel blade and process until finely chopped. Add the remaining ingredients and process to a smooth purée. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. The mixture will stiffen up.
Mildred O. Knopf’s Yorkshire Pudding Chippendale
My stepmother always used this Yorkshire Pudding recipe, from Mildred O. Knopf’s “Cook My Darling Daughter.” I now have her book, and in the back she’s penciled 3 recipes with the page numbers, all of which are splattered from much use: Yorkshire, Roast Beef, and Pastry. The Yorkshire, which has the title Yorkshire Pudding Chippendale with no explanation of what the word “Chippendale” refers to (the dish it’s made in?), is not made in the classical English way with the drippings from the meat; it’s made with butter, lots of it. It’s like a big popover, and irresistible. Here is the recipe, exactly as Mildred O. Knopf wrote it in 1959, with some annotations by my stepmother and by me. Make it while your roast is resting.
[Preheat oven to 450º]
3 ounces butter (my stepmother has penciled in — 6 Tbl)
1 cup milk
1 cup flour
¼ teaspoon salt (I increase the salt by ¼ teaspoon or even a bit more; I think Mildred was using salted butter, which was the norm in those days)
FIRST Melt 3 ounces butter in a 10″ x 12″ pan in a preheated 450º oven.
SECOND While the butter is melting, beat 2 eggs with 1 cup milk. Sift 1 cup flour, measure, and resift with ¼ teaspoon salt (I suggest ½ teaspoon). Stir into milk, beating well to blend.
THIRD Remove pan from oven, pour in mixture on top of butter. Return to oven and bake until puffed up and brown for approximately ½ hour. Crisp, buttery and delicious! Serve cut in large squares with roast beef. Nothing better.
From “Cook, My Darling Daughter,” by Mildred O. Knopf, Alfred A, Knopf, New York, 1962
Top photo: The author’s Christmas tree decorations include a Star of David cookie. Credit: Martha Rose Shulman