First, I have a few rules regarding cooking:
I do not use salt or pepper - ever. If you cannot "taste" your food without saturating it with salt or pepper then there is no purpose for any recipe at all. Whatever you eat will taste the same (salty or peppery) so why bother spending time making some zesty treat for your tongue? Order some fast food and be done with it.
When cooking meat I always use a meat thermometer. If you wait until it "looks ok" you are not cooking you are gambling. Turkey, for instance, will continue to cook for at least 20 minutes more after you take it out of the oven. Thus if you want the thigh to be 180° when you carve it, you should remove the turkey at 172°. Sticking a fork in it is not science.
I cook with a timer. Hard boiled eggs at sea-level should linger in the pot for 17 minutes. In addition the eggs must be at least two weeks old. I will probably have to write a post about how to cook perfect hard-boiled eggs.
My mother on the other hand always made potato latkes by eye. She did not use a measuring cup, instead she relied on unit measurements. That is, instead of a cup of chopped onions she would use "3 big onions" chopped. Instead of a pound of potatoes she would use 3 medium potatoes. She didn't measure, she counted. However, she never experimented. I love to add or change ingredients. That is to say, I do not make exactly the same thing twice, despite the fact that I like to measure carefully.
My mother's potato latkes were always the same size and shape but I have not carried on that tradition. Sometimes I can shape a latke like Australia and I like to make the thickness vary from thin to very thick. I suppose I am balancing the exactness of what I put in with the inexactness of what I am getting out.
Now I have to say that I have not made potato latkes since my mother died seven years ago. I figured since I am hosting a Carnival of Chanukah that I too should submit an article of my own.
So I thought what could be easier than posting a recipe for potato latkes. I gathered the potatoes, onions, flour and eggs easily enough, even peeling the potatoes was no problem, but when I started to grate them I felt my mother's hand on mine showing me the proper way. A sudden overwhelming sense of loss descended on me. I didn't feel alone when I came into the kitchen but now I felt so very, very alone. I missed my mother's voice and the kitchen filled with family and friends, and holiday music coming from the radio.
My granddaughter came in to the kitchen, she loves to help when I cook. I was chopping onions and at seven years old she felt ready to take that duty on. I put my hand on hers and showed her how to chop onions without cutting her fingers off. A family cooking tradition going back thousands of years to the time of Abraham was being passed on. I began to feel less lonely. I fried a few latkes and as the smell of fried onions and garlic wafted through the house, the kitchen began to fill up. My wife came in and turned the radio on and within moments my boys and their wives were covering their plates with the most delicious potato pancakes in New Jersey. I like to top mine with sour cream, my wife likes apple sauce and my oldest nephew puts (urghhh) ketchup on his.
The feeling of loneliness passes. There is nothing as important as family.
But I promised a recipe. Here is Bernie's classic latke, made the same way for the past 2,000 years with just minor variations:
You need three lots: (This will make from 8 large to 12 medium sized latkes)
1 medium onion, peeled
4 large potatoes (or 6 medium or about 3 pounds), peeled
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour (or you can use matzoh meal for variation)
2 tablespoons sour cream (optional)
I like using this style of box grater. But you can use a food processor with the grating disc attachment. Grate the onion and put in a colander hanging over the sink. Grate the potatoes, add to colander, and let drain.
In a very large mixing bowl, lightly beat eggs, then whisk in flour or matzoh meal and optional smetana (sour cream).
I use a cheesecloth to squeeze as much liquid as I can from the potatoes and onion. Then add to egg and flour mix. I use my hands to mix but you can use a wooden spoon, don't overdo it. You want to keep the texture from turning to mush. We are not cooking mashed potatoes.
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons minced garlic
3-4 tablespoons vegetable oil
3-4 tablespoons unsalted butter
Take the 1 onion and 2 tablespoons of minced garlic and mix together, then separate into 3 batches.
I use a 12-inch skillet which should be large enough for 4 latkes at a time. Turn the gas setting between medium and high. Drop in 1 tablespoon of oil and 1 tablespoon of butter and heat until just about smoking but not quite. Add one of the minced garlic/onion batches and fry for one minute. Grab a small handful of potato mix and plop into the pan on top of the frying garlic and flatten with a spatula. If you have a 3 to 4 inch pancake then you grabbed the right amount. If you like, you can shape them into circles. I leave them in whatever shape they get flattened into.
Fry until the bottoms are golden-brown, 3 to 5 minutes, depending on how thick you made them, then turn them over and fry until the edges are crisp, again 3 to 5 minutes, depending. I like to drain them first over a metal grilling then onto paper towels. If it's going to be some while before anyone eats the latkes you can reheat them in the microwave for about 25 seconds.
Between fryings I completely clean the pan with extreme hot water and then a paper towel wipe. Then I repeat the same for each 4 latke batches as above.
Lot 3: Toppings
Serve with a smile.