I usually make our Chanukah dinner on the first night; however, this year, we moved it to the last night. It took place in our NYC apartment. There were five of us: J and the Puzzle Genius, my close friend, Ms. Gorgeous (who also happens to be my brother’s mother-in-law), M and me.
The menu is always the same: chopped salad, pot roast, potato latkes, and sweet and sour red cabbage. Dessert, of course, but that does vary.
All our Jewish holiday dinners start with my famous chopped salad. Well, o.k., it has become famous in my family, and they have come to expect it. My mother used to make it with just a few ingredients: lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and green peppers. (Cooking was definitely not a passion for her, so anything past three or four ingredients was off-limits.) I embellish it by adding a bunch of other things: radishes, red peppers, artichokes, roasted red peppers, black and pimento-stuffed green olives, and red onions. I don’t remember what dressing she used. I start with a generous sprinkling of freshly-ground black pepper and garlic powder. Then I mix Dijon mustard with apple cider vinegar, pour that over the salad and, lastly, add peanut oil.
The rolls served with the salad were Pepperidge Farm Hearth Baked French Rolls. I really like them, but for the past few years, none of the supermarkets near our house has been carrying them. Then, a few weeks ago, I happened down the bread aisle at Foodtown, and there they were again. There was only one bag. I grabbed it. A couple of days later, I checked the bread area at ShopRite, and they had them, so I bought two bags (they freeze very well). Warming them up makes the crust nice and crusty.
Although I stopped keeping kosher at home twelve years ago, for holiday meals, I use only kosher meat. (I still use kosher poultry all the time because I think it has excellent flavor due to the fact that it is “koshered,” i.e., salted and soaked, which is essentially akin to brining.) For pot roast, I get a chuck eye roast, rolled and tied. (I leave that procedure to my butcher.)
In the very early days of my marriage, I wanted to make a pot roast, something I’d never made before. No use asking my mother because she didn’t do pot roast. I have no idea why because it’s not difficult, and it doesn’t require many ingredients. I suppose I could have consulted a cookbook; however, my mother-in-law made them regularly, so I figured I might as well get her recipe. It’s one of only two recipes that I ever asked her for. She seared the meat, rubbed it with some paprika, and stuck it in a pressure cooker. Simple enough. But two problems. I didn’t have a pressure cooker and had no intention of buying one. Second, her food overall was rather bland. So, once I had the basic recipe, I went my own way with it.
I sear the meat on all sides in a Dutch oven then remove to a plate to cool a bit. I deglaze the bottom of the pot by pouring in a couple of cups of water and bringing the water to a boil. Next, a boatload of sliced onion goes into the liquid, along with a generous sprinkling of paprika and a soupçon of ketchup. After I give all sides of the meat a paprika massage, it goes back into the pot. I grind lots of black pepper onto the top of the meat and into the liquid, carpet the top of the meat with chopped garlic (several large cloves), and put lots of chopped garlic into the liquid. The meat simmers, covered, for several hours. When it’s done to a hard pierce, I remove the meat, let it cool down, slice it, place it back in the liquid, and refrigerate it overnight. An hour before dinner time, I reheat it and let it simmer until I’m ready to serve it. The result: exceedingly flavorful meat that is super-tender!
This being a Chanukah dinner, of course, potato latkes are on the menu. Back in the day, we had to use the hand grater (we always used the Yiddish term, “reebahzin”). We would joke that what made the latkes so tasty was the skin from one’s knuckles that invariably ended up in the mix. I occasionally still use it for a very few latkes. However, when it comes to bigger batches, thank goodness for the food processor! These latkes were gluten-free (gluten-free bread crumbs instead of matzoh meal as a binder) so that the Puzzle Genius could eat them. Making latkes in advance is tricky because it can be difficult to keep them crispy. But I put the plate on a warming tray, and that worked out very well.
For the applesauce that accompanied the latkes, I use a Jacques Pépin recipe. Apples with skin on (I like Macs), apricot preserves (I use “all fruit”), and a little water. Once cooked, since it was not a large amount, I mashed it with a potato ricer then pushed the mixture through a strainer to remove any bits of skin that hadn’t dissolved. Et, voilà!
The other side dish was sweet and sour red cabbage. The recipe is from a cookbook I bought a very long time ago: McCall’s Illustrated Dinner Party Cookbook. The sliced cabbage (again, the food processor comes in handy for bigger batches) is combined with apples, cider vinegar, sugar, butter, and some water.
Oh, and there were some sour pickles.
And for dessert….
I’d already made one batch of Chanukah cookies (you can see them here). While I still had some of those, I decided to make a new batch, but these would be gluten-free so that the P.G. could enjoy them. The thing is, I had never baked gluten-free cookies before. A lot of the recipes I found were for drop cookies, but I wanted to be able to roll out the dough and use Chanukah-related cookie cutter shapes. Finally, on the web, I found a gluten-free recipe that was specifically for Chanukah cookies. I was a bit concerned that not being able to use regular flour would make it difficult to roll out the dough, but while the gluten-free dough was a bit tricky to work with, I was able to roll it out and do the cut-outs. We all agreed that the finished product was quite tasty.
I’ve made this flourless chocolate cake a number of times before, and you don’t have to be gluten-intolerant to love it. It’s a Martha Stewart recipe, quite easy, and it always comes out perfect. Well, except for the first time I made it when I accidentally used the wrong pan! (A big “Thank you!” to Master Baker u.e. for setting me straight.) The cake is very moist and chocolaty without being overly sweet. I served it with Breyer’s Vanilla Ice Cream.
Ms. Gorgeous declined my offer, but I sent J and the P.G. home with a bag filled with leftovers, the rest of the cookies, and a big hunk of chocolate cake. That still left plenty of leftovers, which was a good thing. The next day, the Big Storm of December ’09 began making its way towards the Big Apple. M and I went out for a lovely, long lunch at Tocqueville (see photos here). By the time we were hungry for dinner, it was quite late, the snow had begun to stick, and it was cold and windy. So, instead of going out, we watched an oldie-but-goodie movie, Mrs. Miniver, on Channel 13, and had a very tasty meal from those leftovers.