Posted by Rob Eshman
A couple of years ago I interviewed Chef Micah Wexler, who was then working at Craft in Century City, the West Coast Tom Colicchio outpost. It was Oscar weekend, and Wexler was tasked with making the hors d’oeuvres for Craft’s Oscar night party. He shared them with me, and I, in turn, made them at home.
And they’re good.
These days Wexler is about to launch Mezze, a contemporary California-Middle Eastern restaurant on La Cienega in the old Sona space. I’m convinced from speaking to him breifly about the menu that Mezze will do for za’atar and sumac what Angeli’s did once upon a time for sundried tomatoes and balsamic.
Here’s my story, and his recipes, from Oscar Bash ‘08.
At this time last year, Matt Accarrino was gearing up to throw the most talked-about Oscar party in town.
Vanity Fair magazine had tapped Craft Los Angeles, the restaurant where Accarrino is head chef, to host its annual post-Academy Awards bash. A year earlier, the magazine had held the party at Morton’s, and 800 people, from Oprah to Al Gore to that evening’s winners, had shown up to dance, dine and be photographed until the wee hours.
Now it was Craft’s turn to shine, and expectations were high.
Craft is the West Coast outpost of celebrity chef Tom Colicchio’s burgeoning empire. Patrons can’t help but judge its kitchen with the same stink-eye stare that Colicchio levels at the sweating, panting contestants on his hit show, “Top Chef.” Craft also holds down a corner of the Creative Artists Agency’s glassy, Apple Store-like headquarters in Century City — it’s an Industry commissary that should know how to wow A-listers.
The key to it all, Accarrino told me, is staying true to your cooking philosophy, no matter who’s coming to dinner, no matter how fancy the party.
“Dresses make parties fancy,” he said. “We have not ever really dramatically had to change what we do here at Craft to make it more or less fancy. We believe in serving the best ingredients we can find at their best. I may add a bit of personal style, but the quality of the food is the star.”
The menu he designed for the Vanity Fair party reflected that style: appetizers of fried brandade (dried cod purée) with caper aioli, piquillo pepper marmalade and spiced almond; trays of wagyu beef tartare with chimmichurri sauce, compressed cucumber and garlic toast, and pass-arounds of roasted baby beets, pistachio puree, goat cheese and blood orange.
But Accarrino hadn’t sliced into his first blood orange when Craft got word: the party was off. In the midst of the writer’s strike, Hollywood wasn’t in a partying mood.
“After much consideration, and in support of the writers and everyone else affected by this strike, we have decided that this is not the appropriate year to hold our annual Oscar party,” said a statement posted on VanityFair.com.
The cancellation came early enough so there wasn’t any food lost, and Accarrino took it in stride: the restaurant filled that night anyway with a private Oscar party for another client.
Craft isn’t kosher, but when I asked Accarrino to come up with recipes for a kosher Oscar party, he didn’t blink. The man has been around.
The New Jersey native took to the idea of cooking seasonal, locally farmed food while he worked at the Michelin guide-rated Antonello Colonna restaurant in Labico, Italy.
Back in the States he worked as an opening sous chef at chef Thomas Keller’s Per Se in New York, also putting in time at the restaurants of Rick Moonen, Charlie Palmer and Todd English.
He joined Colicchio’s team in 2005, after writing the chef something of a fan letter (judging from many e-mails, Accarrino’s a fine writer, too).
In coming up with a kosher menu, Accarrino said his sous chef Micah Wexler would help him with the assignment.
The 26-year-old Wexler was in charge of all special events and private parties at Craft for 2008. Not only did the San Fernando Valley native work for Wolfgang Puck, Gino Angelini and, in New York, for Atelier Roubchon, he’s a graduate of Adat Ari El Day School and Milken Community High School. He’d better know kosher.
For an Oscar night menu, Accarrino and Wexler chose three dairy dishes that draw on bold fresh flavors and preparations that highlight the ingredients. When food is competing for attention with Vera Wang’s dresses and Bruce Vilanch’s punch lines, Accarrino’s advice is to “go for broke. Even when food is not the event, it’s no reason to make it anything less than special.”
In this case, special means smoked whitefish or salmon formed into a rillette, or French-style country paté, then rolled in traditional Moroccan brik pastry and fried. A second dish involves fresh goat cheese melted on a crisp homemade flatbread together with onions that have been sautéed slowly until sweet and caramelized. The most complicated dish is a ravioli of earthy yams stuffed into a seasonal chestnut pasta. The finished ravioli are sautéed in brown butter and fresh sage, then served on spoons with chestnut slices, more sage and pomegranate seeds.
OK, not so simple. But Accarrino also has sound advice for a foolproof (and kosher) menu that would work for any party, at any season:
“Serve great cheeses, marinated farm-fresh vegetables, cucumber and tomato in the summer, cippolini onions and wild mushrooms in the winter. Serve great charcuterie. Although traditionally made with pork, there are great kosher examples, such as bresola [Italian air-dried beef] and prosciutto made from lamb or duck instead of pork. Serve things that can stay at room temperature and serve them family-style. It makes a great and generous presentation and keeps people together and social.”
“Simple things can be transcendent,” Accarrino reminded me. “The important thing is that the food is a quality product and it tastes good. There is no substitute for flavor.”
Goat Cheese & Onion Flatbreads
1 package dry yeast
2 1/2 tablespoons water, warm
1 cup and 3 tablespoons water, room temperature
1 ounce olive oil
2 cups and 2 tablespoons flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup caramelized onions
1 cup goat cheese
1/2 cup pitted Nicoise olives, sliced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
Mix yeast with warm water in mixing bowl; let stand till bloomed, five to 10 minutes. While you are waiting, mix dry ingredients. With the paddle attachment and machine on low speed, stir in water and oil till incorporated.
Gradually add dry ingredients, still on low speed. Mix two minutes. Change to the dough hook. Mix for two minutes more on low speed. Now on medium speed mix for three minutes more. Place in a well-oiled container and cover. Place in refrigerator and proof overnight.
The following morning, take dough out of refrigerator and let it come to room temperature for one hour. Remove dough gently and place on lightly floured table.
While dough is rising, prepare caramelized onions (recipe follows).
Divide dough into equal portions and shape into balls. Store in container that has been floured. Allow to rest for 20 minutes in a warm place. Punch down and roll out to a round shape.
Place on a pizza peel; top with caramelized onions, black olives and goat cheese. Slide onto preheated pizza stone in a 400 F oven. Bake eight to 10 minutes or till golden. Sprinkle thyme leaves over top and cut into wedges. Serve hot.
Caramelized Onions Ingredients:
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper
Slice two onions in half lengthwise, then cut into 1/4 inch slices crosswise.
Heat 1/2 cup olive oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, stir to coat with the oil, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and cook, stirring occasionally until the onions are soft and have just begun to color, about 30 minutes.
Remove the cover, sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, increase the heat to medium and cook uncovered, stirring frequently, until the onion is deep golden and caramelized, about 25 minutes.
Warm Smoked Fish Cigars and Salsa Verde
1 pound flaked smoked whitefish or king salmon
1/4 cup diced steamed potato
1/4 cup diced sautéed carrot
1/4 cup diced sautéed celery
1/4 cup minced shallot, marinated with a few drops of red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon crème fraiche
1 tablespoon fines herbs (chervil, parsley, tarragon, chives), chopped
1 package brik dough
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Oil to fry (canola or vegetable)
3/4 cup chopped fines herbs (chervil, parsley, tarragon, chives)
1 tablespoon toasted pine nuts
1 tablespoon capers
1/3 cup bread crumbs
1 clove roasted garlic
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Combine flaked fish with warm potato and vegetables in a stand-up mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Mix to combine. Add in mustard, crème fraiche and herbs to combine. Season and chill.
Cut brik dough into 4-inch-by-4-inch squares. Form about one tablespoon of fish mixture into a log and roll brik dough around filling. Take care to fold in the sides. Seal the edge of the dough with egg wash. Reserve cigars for later.
In a blender, combine herbs, pine nuts, capers, bread crumbs, roasted garlic, Parmesan cheese and extra-virgin olive oil. Blend on low speed until a chunky but even paste forms. Season and reserve.
When ready to serve, fry cigars in 350 F oil until golden. Make sure you use a pot that is at least four times the volume of oil you plan to fill it with — you do not want it to overflow. Cut each cigar in half on a bias and serve with salsa verde.
Yam-Filled Chestnut Ravioli
Yam Filling Ingredients:
1 2/3 cups roasted, peeled yam 1 1/2 teaspoons brown butter
1 tablespoon mascarpone
1/2 teaspoon acacia honey
1 pinch kosher salt
5 turns black pepper
Combine all in food processor. This may take several batches. Cool.
Chestnut Pasta Dough Ingredients:
1/2 cup Italian 00 flour
2 1/2 tablespoons chestnut flour
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon whole milk
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
Combine all dry ingredients. Combine all wet ingredients. Mix wet to dry in stand-up mixer on medium for seven minutes.
Yam Filling from above
Chestnut Pasta Dough from above
Fresh peeled chestnuts, sliced thinly
Roll out chestnut dough using a pasta roller to the next-to-thinnest setting. Pipe teaspoon-size mounds of yam filling from a piping bag onto half the dough.
Fold the dough over and seal to form ravioli. Punch out with a round cutter (keep in mind these need to be small enough to fit on a spoon) and thin the edges all around to both seal the ravioli and ensure they will cook evenly. Cook the ravioli in simmering salted water till tender.
Meanwhile brown the butter in a sauté pan with the chestnuts, cooking them to a crisp and golden brown. Add the sage and fry to release the flavor. Add the ravioli and toss gently to coat in the browned sage butter.
Season and finish with grated Parmesan cheese. Place ravioli on spoons with chestnut slices, sage and garnish with pomegranate seeds.
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February 8, 2011 | 12:24 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
It can only be good that McDonalds in Israel is now featuring the McFalafel, a fast food version of the ubiquitous Israeli snack food. In today’s Haaretz, there’s a long story by Tracy Levy on the McFalafel, but here’s what you want to know: how’s it taste:
Then we braced ourselves for McDonald’s falafel-patty. The tension mounted as my friend bit into it first and chewed thoughtfully.
“It tastes like falafel,” she said. I reached for the patty, hoping to discern what exactly that un-scientific statement of hers actually meant. The falafel-patty was, in fact, surprisingly not horrible. I would stop short of calling it delicious, but it was crunchy and pleasing and lacked that “fake” aftertaste that many people argue pervades fast food.
In a surprising turn of events, the falafel I had picked up from my favorite stand had been served to me without humus or tahina, making for one dry pita, which no one likes. The McFalafel, on the other hand, had veggies and a flavorful green tahina sauce, making for a more pleasurable eating experience. And when neither my friend nor I could take another bite, half a pita from the neighborhood stand was left on the plate, while the McFalafel was completely gone.
Having faced the McFalafel, I can say for certain that it is not as bad as one would imagine, and may in fact be pretty decent. But should tourists looking for a taste of original Middle Eastern flavor visit McDonald’s to satisfy their craving? I think the answer to that is obvious.
Falafel is a Middle Eastern food of mashed garbanzo or fava beans and various spices. The best, according to Mediterranean cooking expert Cliff Wright, are produced by Egypt’s Christian Copts. But entrepreneurial Israelis have worked to brand falafel, like hummus, as an Israeli contribution to the world market, despite the fact that the little fried hockey pucks predate the state of Israel by, oh, a few hundred years.
No matter: Cultures spread food, and food spread cultures. If the McFalafel takes off and comes to America, it can only help create more curiosity about its country of origin. If a person’s first taste of a country or culture is a delicious bite of food, can enduring appreciation, if not love, be far behind.
January 28, 2011 | 12:34 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Here’s one little clue I had that the uprising in Egypt had legs. What started as a street protest now looks like it may become a revolution. Back on Tuesday morning, when the first Tweets started coming out of Cairo, one in particular caught my eye:
Fast food shops around Tahir Square are giving out free food for protesters!
What that meant to me was that the middle class was behind the protest—it’s the middle class that owns those shops. It mean the protest wasn’t led by Islamists, or Islamist at all—it was led by young, secular Egyptians who reminded shopkeepers of their own kids. And it meant one more thing: The protesters and the people were in this for the long haul.
Tom Friedman has an old (and slightly discredited) rule that two countries with McDonalds never go to war against each other, since the democratic, stable conditions that make multinational fast food franchises mean the masses and leaders have a stake in stability and peace. Call what happened in Tahir Square is the Cairo Corollary: when fast food franchises start feeding the rioters instead of boarding up their windows, the political winds have clearly shifted.
So is it too early to celebrate the people in Egypt struggling for freedom? Not for Foodaism. Tonight, keep the Egyptian people close to your heart by making one of my favorite Egyptian dishes, Ful Muddamas.
Ful is fava or broad beans, and this is a common stew made with just a few ingredients. If you’ve eaten in the hummus shops of Israel, chances are they plopped a bowl of this on your table: earthy fava beans baked or simmered until soft, blend with olive oil, garlic, cumin and lemon juice, and served with parsley and raw onion as condiments.
Make sure the ingredients are at their best: great olive oil is key, as is fresh garlic and lemon juice. You can make this by using dried favas, soaking them overnight, then cooking until tender in a saucepan or oven casserole, then proceed with other ingredients. But time is short until Shabbat, and it is still delciious using canned beans. I wish I could show you a picture, but I’m blogging at 30,000 feet on a Virgin America flight.
Where, by the way, I ordered an eggplant, beet and goat cheese lavash—and it was shockingly good.
3 cans Ful beans (available at Middle East and Kosher markets)
1 tbs Freshly ground cumin
6 Cloves garlic, crushed
4 Hard-boiled eggs; shelled
1 Handful EACH chopped fresh parsley, cilantro, mint
2 Quartered lemons
1 sweet onion, chopped
Great quality olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper and Salt
Put beans in saucepan, cover with water by 2-3 inches. Add the spices and garlic and eggs. Bring to boil and then simmer. Caned beans will take 20 minutes. Dried, soaked beans will take 2 or 3 hours. Put all other ingredients on the table. When ful is soft and hot, but not completely mushy place in shallow bowl. Serve with cilantro, mint, lemon, and onion.. Slather with more olive oil, lemon juice, salt and cumin, along with warm pita. People can scoop up beans then add the condiments they want.
January 20, 2011 | 2:06 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Sometimes, for the sake of my marriage, I try to look at myself through my wife’s eyes.
Early this month, for instance, my wife came home one day to see me crouched by our fireplace in the living room. My hands were black. Next to me, hot flames were licking at a hunk of beef. There was a dark smear — soot? charcoal? mascara? — beneath my right eye. The house smelled good — fire, smoke, meat — but it was not a normal smell. It was like a campfire, but inside the house.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
The beef was hanging on a string from the mantle, twirling slowly in front of the glowing embers. I was brushing it with a mixture of olive oil, garlic, wine and thyme.
It was the second week of cold weather and heavy rains, and I was cooking almost every meal in our fireplace.
My forbearing wife has accepted my relentless steps toward more rural urban living. There was our backyard garden formed by using ripped-up concrete from our driveway as a retaining wall (which she calls “The Kotel”); the fine front lawn I tore out and replaced with 62 artichoke plants. There are the five chickens and, yes, the two goats. All this had changed our home and our lives, in good ways, but, still, as I crouched like a caveman by my meat and fire, I could understand the worry implicit in my wife’s question: “Is this the new normal?”
That morning, I had lit a fire, waited for the flames to die down, then cooked perfect fried eggs in a cast iron pan amid the dry heat and wood smoke. For dinner the night before, I seared red snapper in the pan and tucked potatoes wrapped in foil into the embers. One night, I grilled mushrooms, and a couple of times when company came over, I stood a hunk of raclette cheese by the flames and let guests scoop the fragrant, oozing melt onto cubes of bread.
The night my wife walked in, I was going full “Survivor,” suspending a garlic-studded 5-pound roast close enough to the flames to broil, like a Tel Aviv shwarma. Many years earlier, I had read my cookbook god Richard Olney, in “Simple French Food,” describe this as cooking à la ficelle — on a string. Now I was finally trying it myself.
My enthusiasm had burned through our supply of wood. I ran back to All Cities Firewood on West Adams and asked for more almond wood. The man took me to the back, where he had a smoker stoked with semi-dry chunks of oak blasting away. The scent, just 200 yards from the I-10, was heavenly. “That’s what you want,” he told me. He was a fellow fire-cooker.
No one ever found inspiration staring into a well-regulated gas flame, an electric coil or, heaven knows, an induction heating surface.
But, crouched by my fireplace, feeding it logs, feeding my family its food, was so elemental, so fulfilling.
In his book “Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human,” anthropologist Richard Wrangham dismisses the idea that humans were drawn to fire for warmth — gorillas sleep outdoors at high altitudes, he points out. No, the point of fire was cooking — making food digestible and more instantly nutritious.
Staring into my flames, I realized that cooking and religion are two things that separate us from animals, and what they have in common is fire. The fire of dinner became the flame of sacrifice; to fire’s transformative power we entrust our bodies through food and our souls through sacrifice. Drawing close to the fire, I felt both body and soul replenished.
In Judaism, sacrifice gave way to prayer after the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. Fireplace cooking lasted much longer, into the 19th century. The grand antebellum Southern plantations had whole outbuildings devoted to hearth cooking. The gas stove wasn’t factory-produced until the 1880s. In the scope of human history, that’s last week. Something in us — in me — wants to be back at the hearth.
Still, it’s weird, I grant my wife that, to come home to a husband who looks like a National Geographic photo. But for as long as the rain fell, I cooked at our hearth. The high heat and dry air made the fish sear crisply, the eggs set in an instant. The vegetables tasted more substantial. The meat took hours to cook, but the oak fragranced every bite.
“Man make fire,” Tom Hanks grunts in “Cast Away,” getting it exactly backward: Fire makes man.
1. Light a wood fire in your fireplace and wait until the flames burn down and the embers are glowing hot.
2. Prop a heavy frying pan — cast iron is best — on a flat portion of the embers.
3. Allow pan to heat, then add olive oil.
4. When the oil is very hot, add a slice of good bread.
5. Let it brown, then flip it.
6. Crack eggs into the pan beside the bread.
7. They will set and cook very rapidly.
8. When they’re set, take the pan carefully from the fire.
9. Use a spatula to remove the eggs and the bread.
10. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
1. Gut and clean a whole fish. I used a 1 pound New Zealand snapper.
2. Stuff with fennel branches, lemon slices, thyme, salt pepper and olive oil.
3. Heat cast iron pan or grill on hot embers. Add some olive oil.
4. Grill on each side until cooked. The variables here are huge, so test for doneness when it starts to look, um, done.
January 7, 2011 | 9:53 am
Posted by Rob Eshman
The first time I ever spoke to Joan Nathan, it was by telephone, and I wrote out for myself what I wanted to say to her: “Hello, Ms. Nathan, this is Rob Eshman with The Jewish Journal in Los Angeles, and I want to speak with you about your new cookbook. I think you should know that ‘Jewish Holiday Kitchen’ is my Bible.”
I don’t normally do that — I don’t usually write my phone introductions down like a telemarketer’s script. But after Joan’s publicist agreed to the interview, I got nervous. For years I’d pored over her cookbooks. When people said I made good matzah balls, latkes, cholent or challah, they were crediting Joan. My grandmother and mom made some of these dishes, and theirs were delicious, but I didn’t know the recipes. Joan did. She researched them, she tested them, she drew out the stories behind them, and she wrote the best ones down. I used them over and over. I didn’t feed my family and friends. Joan Nathan did.
Again, you have to understand: In our home, my wife, the rabbi, has shelves of holy books, volumes of Jewish texts, a Talmud set handed down to her from her father. I have seven shelves of cookbooks. If you ask me where I keep my Richard Olney, or my Marcella Hazan, or my Nathan, I will find it for you. Then one day, about 10 years ago, I found myself talking with her.
Joan Nathan, bigger than life before I called her, turned out to be warm, and friendly, and interested, and then, eventually, part of my life.
She was due out to Los Angeles on a book tour. I picked her up at the Bel Age Hotel and took her to Uzbekistan, a now-defunct restaurant on Sunset and La Brea that was owned by Jews.
Story continues after the video.
“Manti!” Joan exclaimed when her eyes ran over the menu.
Manti are dumplings. Joan quickly explained how manti and kreplach share peasant roots; they’re the wontons of the steppes. The waiter asked if we wanted vodka. It was lunchtime, on a Wednesday.
“This food really needs vodka,” Joan said. That was a great lunch.
We’ve eaten many more meals together. Joan lives in Washington, D.C., where her husband, Allan Gerson, specializes in international law (he is the one who sued Libya over the Lockerbie bombing — and won). But her work for The New York Times food section, as well as her own books, have often brought her West, and when she’s come I’ve always spent more time than I ever let on figuring out the best places to take her: a tour through Elat Market in Pico-Robertson, City Spa’s cafe for its Russian/Persian food and Koreatown.
Once we drove an hour north to the Herzog kosher winery in Oxnard, where we ate at Tierra Sur, one of the world’s best kosher restaurants. Chef Todd Aarons (who now blogs at jewishjournal.com) saw Joan and came to our table.
“My wife always makes our challah,” he told Joan. “I just realized it’s your recipe.”
His eyes grew soft. For a second I thought he was tearing up. “Every Shabbas she makes your challah.”
Joan, who can be very unsentimental about her work, nodded understandingly.
“That’s a great recipe,” she said.
In October, Knopf published Joan’s 10th cookbook, “Quiches, Kugels and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France.” Don’t let the somewhat kitschy title fool you: This is a serious, deeply researched, but accessible work. Like all of Joan’s books, it is as much anthropology, history and journalism as it is cookbook. The more accurate, though maybe less Food Network-friendly, title would have been “French Jewish Cuisine.”
I threw a book party for Joan over Chanukah. For a woman who had given me so much, it was so the least I could do. A hard-and-fast dinner party rule is never cook anything new. But I resolved to make only recipes from the new book, things I’d never made before: Choucroute garnie with homemade sauerkraut; a fennel salad with celery, cucumber, lemon and pomegranate; Tunisian winter squash with coriander and harissa; North African brik with tuna and cilantro, and an Alsatian Chanukah fruit bread called Hutzel Wecken.
Joan came early, and we cooked together. She told me how she’d traveled through France to find Jewish recipes but along the way discovered how much French cuisine owes to centuries of Jewish migration and innovation — how it was the Jews who brought chocolate and many other New World foods to France, as well as foie gras.
The house filled up with family and friends. Joan’s invite list kept bringing surprises through the door. When Joan introduced me to Anne Willan, whose cookbooks I also revere, I think I blurted out, “You’re here?” The food writer Jonathan Gold and his wife, editor Laurie Ochoa, came in — Jonathan Gold eating my food. If the pomegranate vodka I’d made hadn’t by then taken effect, I would have been a mass of nerves — I would have had to write down what I’d always wanted to say to Jonathan.
But the fireplace was crackling, the food came out fine, we went through a lot of pomegranate vodka — and a lot of wine. They say one secret to happiness is the ability to show gratitude. It must be true, because that night I was very, very happy.
December 3, 2010 | 4:24 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Thanksgiving Weekend 2010 we stopped on the drive from San Francisco to L.A. at Pasolivo Olive Oil Company in Paso Robles, CA. It so happened they were picking and pressing the first crush of extra virgin olive oil at the moment we arrived. It’s made from Italian varietals including Frantoio, Leccino, Pendolino, Lucca and Moraiolo. The press is smaller than I imagine—a large living room area, about the size of Pasolivo’s busy gift shop. I had my iPhone, and decided to do a quick video.
I’d never tasted oil fresh from the olive before. It was as much like wine or juice as oil—fragrant and sharp and grassy, it tasted as much of the trees as of the olive.
The pint jar you see in this video retails for around $40. And it’s worth it.
This is not the olive you use in your Hanukkah menorah this weekend, or to fry the latkes (heaven forbid). You pour it over some fresh mozzerella, or you just pour it on a white plate, swipe your finger across it, and lick. Happy Hanukah.
Watch the Video:
November 18, 2010 | 11:09 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Our former Web Editor Jay Firestone was coming over last Sunday to shoot a Foodaism “How to Make Latkes Video.” Neither one of us was overly excited about the prospect. There are a lot of latke how to videos on the Web by now, and I’d already written and posted my magnum latke opus, years ago. What, beyond my unruly Sunday morning hair, did we have to bring to the party?
Jay told me that lying in bed that morning he had an inspiration: a spoof on the nefarious KFC Double Down Chicken Sandwich commercial. The Double Down was introduced a few months ago, but it’s already fast food legend: bacon and cheese sandwiched between two fried chicken breasts. The meat is the bread—get it? I guess it means you double down on fat, sodium and the chance you’ll end up dying at 40 and being buried in a shipping container.
And yes, I know you can get the breasts grilled rather than fried, like that’s the healthy alternative.
Jay stopped at a KFC on the way over to buy the authentic set design elements, and as you’ll see he even Photoshopped my head into the logo.
Story and complete recipe continue after the jump.
When he told me the idea, I figured a Double Down Latke sandwich should have lox, chives and crème fraiche instead of bacon and cheese. But I had to substitute chopped lettuce and onion for the chives. When I went out to the garden, I discovered the goats had mowed my chives down to the nubs. Next week: kosher birria.....
The recipe is below. I’ve begun to make latkes by grating the potatoes directly into water, then wringing them out well in a kitchen towel. It keeps them pearly white and crisp. You can add the chopped or grated onion and garlic right to the water, or after, along with the eggs.
Once the latkes are fried, you slather on crème fraiche or sour cream, lay down your lox, the onion, another shmear of crème fraiche, and that’s your sandwich. It really is delicious—it brought me back to dinners at the old Hamburger Hamlet with my folks, when I’d always order “Those Potatoes,” a huge skillet of hash browns layered with sour cream and, I think, green onions. I’d devour those, looking at the posters on the walls for old productions of Hamlet, thinking—What does Hamlet have to do with this place?
It took me all of 20 minutes to make the Double Down Latke Sandwich. Grate, wring, fry, slather. I could have done it faster, but you’ll notice I spent so much time in hair, makeup and wardrobe.
The quickness makes its own point. I’m a big fan of the Slow Food movement. But don’t let the catchy name fool you. The key distinction isn’t fast food versus slow food, but good food over crap food. You can put together good, healthy, real food in the same amount of time it takes to make or order bad fast food. Sometimes real food does just take longer, but in our daily lives the key is to fill whatever time we have, or make, with the best food we can.
By the way, this Double Down Latke Sandwich is just delicious. I mean, wow. Happy Chanukah.
1 pound potatoes
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 T flour or matzo meal (optional)
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper
grapeseed, olive or peanut oil
lox or smoked salmon
crème fraiche or sour cream
chives or green onion, chopped
chopped lettuce, optional
Preheat oven to 250°F.
Peel potatoes and coarsely grate, directly into a large bowl of cold water.
Soak potatoes 1 to 2 minutes after last batch is added to water, then drain well in a colander.
Spread grated potatoes, garlic and onion on a kitchen towel, roll up and wring out as much liquid as possible.
Transfer potato mixture to a bowl and stir in egg and salt. If it’s too runny add a little flour or matzo meal. Too dry add a little bit more egg.
Heat a large skillet. Add enough oil to cover the bottom plus a bit more. Get the oil hot but not smoking. Use a spoon to potato mixture into skillet, spreading with the back of the spoon into 3 or 4-inch rounds.
Reduce heat to moderate and cook until undersides are very well browned, about 5 minutes. Turn latkes over and cook until undersides are very well browned, about 5 minutes more. You want walnut brown, not beige.
Transfer to paper towels to drain and season with salt. Add more oil to skillet as needed.
Keep latkes warm on a wire rack set in a shallow baking pan in oven.
To make the Double Down, spread crème fraiche on one side of a latke, pile on lox and onions, spread some crème fraiche on another latke, then make into a sandwich.
Wine suggestion: Seltzer.
November 12, 2010 | 5:10 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Seven years ago, my wife wrote an entire book about praying to God without using formal prayers.
I’m the same way, but with recipes.
I love reading recipes, I collect cookbooks, I enjoy food magazines—but they all serve more for inspiration than instruction. I learned to cook partly by following recipes, but at some point I closed the book. In my wife’s book of prayers, Talking to God, she writes about the rote learning and formality of traditional prayer is often an obstacle to the experience of holiness.
The same goes for cooking. Bury your nose in a cookbook, worry over following a recipe to the dot, and you lose the immediacy, the contact, the sensuality and the connection you would otherwise feel to the food you’re cooking. Sometimes you have to make that sacrifice: I still will use recipes when I make a new pastry, because there’s less margin for error there. But in regular cooking, I prefer to go on instinct and prior experience. It feels better.
Something about Thanksgiving brings out the recipe fanatics. Every food magazine and food section publishes guide after guide, and I wonder if all that doesn’t ghive the holiday kitchen the stiffness of High Church (or synagogue), where you don’t fear the Lord as much as you fear going off script.
Want to get Thanksgiving back? Try cooking the turkey without notes. I know it sounds like heresy at a time like this, but just do it. The single most important dish on the single most important American cooking holiday, all eyes on you, every expectant mouth just waiting for a perfect slice—if you can do it on Thanksgiving, with the turkey, you can do it all year.
Here’s the three things about no-recipe cooking to remember:
1. You’re a better cook than you know. You already are an expert in how you like things to taste, so just taste a lot and follow your tongue.
2. You can cheat. Peak in a cookbook if you want, Google, call a friend. Hey, e-mail me.
3. When in doubt, pull it out. Better to undercook than to overcook. You can always put things back on the stove or back in the oven.
4. Use the very best ingredients you can afford (or better), keep the preparation simple, and you will hardly ever go wrong.
Recipe-Free Thanksgiving Turkey
I use a kosher, free-range heritage breed turkey. It costs like 90 bucks a pound, but it lived a good life and it tastes great. How long does it take to cook? About 3-4 hours. A nice brown skin is a good indication it’s time to start checking.
1 best-quality turkey
fresh thyme and bay leaf
Preheat the oven to 350. Wash the turkey inside and out and dry thoroughly. Chop half the vegetables very fine, then toss with salt, pepper, the chopped herbs and some wine and the lemon juice you’ve squeezed from the lemon. Stuff most of this mixture under the skin of the turkey by lifting gently with the back of your hands and pushing it under the breasts and thighs. Put the rest inside the cavity, along with the squeezed lemon halves.
Chop the rest of the vegetables roughly and lay in large roasting pan. Coat the bird in oil, then sprinkle on lots of salt, pepper, paprika and finely chopped garlic.
Place the turkey breast side down on the vegetables, pour in enough wine to cover the bottom of the pan, and roast until very brown. Turn over and roast until very brown.
Test with a thermometer plunged into the thigh, or by cutting and peeking, or by feel. If it’s too raw, roast longer, if you’ve overcooked it, you’ll know better next time. Check early and pull out just before you’re sure its done—meat continues to cook outside the oven.
Remove the turkey and place the roasting pan on a high flame. Add a lot of vermouth and boil and scrape until the pan bottom is clean. Pour through a colander into a measuring cup, let fat separate, then skim it mostly off. Pour juices back into a saucepan, add a little flour or cornstarch and stir over high heat until it begins to thicken. Then you pour in enough stock to serve your guests, and adjust with salt and pepper.
Slice the turkey after it’s rested 15 minutes or so, then serve with the sauce.