Sunday, December 21, 2008

Happy Chanukah - Potato Latkes and Brisket Recipes

As I look out my window and see the mounds of snow, I don't know about a white Christmas, but tonight is the first night of Chanukah and it certainly will be a white Chanukah (or if you prefer Hanukkah) in upstate New York. Chanukah for those of you who don't know what the holiday is celebrates the miracle of the oil burning in the Temple for eight days when there was only enough oil for one day. King Antiochus ruled over the Jews in Syria. He ordered them to stop worshipping in the Temple of Jersulem and to worship only Greek Gods, if you refused to worship the Greek Gods, you were ordered to be killed. Judah Maccabee and his five sons let a revolt against the Syrians to win back their Temple. When they were able to return to the Temple, they found that it was filled with symbols of the Greek Gods. They labored intensively to get the Temple ready for Shabbat (Sabbath) services only to find that they had enough oil to light The Eternal Light for one day. They went on to light the Eternal Light and for some reason it burned for eight days, and it was said to be a miracle.

In celebration, we light a candle for each night of Chanukah plus the Shamos candle which is used to light the other candles. You add one more candle each day, starting from left to right until the last night, when all eight burn.

The foods associated with Chanukah have to do with the miracle of oil, and they are traditionally fried foods, the most common of which are potato latkes and fried doughnuts. Traditionally, you receive 8 gifts, one for each night of Chanukah and Chanukah "gelt" (money) in the form of chocolate gold wrapped coins. You spin a top called a dreidel, and depending on where the top stops, it determines your action of play. The top has four Hebrew letters on Gimmel which means you take all the money, Heh which means you take half, Nun which means you take nothing, and Shin which means you put in a coin. The game is like put and take, you ante up and then begin playing. You can play with "gelt" or money (pennies) or with candies such as M & M's.

Here are pictures of the Hebrew Symbols for the Letters as they appear on the sides of the dreidel (or top):





A picture of a glass dreidel so you can picture how it looks

However, since we are a food blog, let's talk about food. The Chanukah meal is usually a brisket of beef which has been cooked the day before and then reheated to give it maximum flavor, accompanied by vegetables and of course some type of Latke, usually potato. The latkes are generally severed with either sour cream or applesauce on the side. Generally, jelly doughnuts are served for dessert. Whew, all this from an Italian Catholic, now converted to Judiasm...

Here is a recipe for my husband's grandmother, Nanny Nellie's Brisket. She was a fabulous cook, and was one of the few from her generation who could actually give you precise directions for her recipes. I apologize that there are no pictures to accompany the brisket, but I haven't started to cook it yet.

Nellie Reinisch

1 large beef brisket
4 onions, peeled and sliced
McCormick® Season All Seasoned salt
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and cut in half
2-3 cloves of garlic, peeled and cut in ⅓’s
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 3-inch pieces
2 stalks celery, cut into 3-inch pieces
1 can mushrooms
5-6 potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
Black pepper
4-5 tablespoons vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 350°. In a large skillet, heat the oil. Sprinkle the brisket with black pepper, seasoned salt and paprika. With a small knife make little holes in the fat side of the brisket and insert the garlic pieces that have been cut into thirds throughout the brisket. Sear the brisket until brown about 10 minutes. Remove. In a large enamel roasting pan, place the onions; sprinkle with seasoned salt. Mix the garlic cloves that were halved in with the onions. Place the carrots and celery on top of the onions. Add the tomato sauce, seasoned salt, pepper, and paprika to taste. Place the brisket on top of the vegetables. Cover with foil and bake at for 2 hours. Parboil the potatoes and add them to the brisket after it cooks two hours. (I usually just peel and cube them and put them in raw at the beginning. Add the mushrooms. Cover again and let cook another 1 to 2 hours.

Here is a hint for you: If you slice the brisket after the first two hour period and place it back in the pan, it will continue to cook beautifully in the juices and will not break apart as it would if you sliced it after it was completely cooked. Remember to always slice the brisket against the grain.

Beef Brisket on Foodista

This is one of my favorite Latke recipes. Latkes are like hash browns for those of you who have never had them.


6 large white potatoes
2 large onions
2 - 3 eggs
2 egg whites
⅔ cup of matzoh meal or flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon white pepper
Oil for frying

Peel potatoes and onions. (If not using immediately, place in cold water.) Grate the potatoes and onions with a shredding blade of a food processor or by hand. I prefer to do it by hand for a small quantity. Put grated potatoes and onions in a fine strainer and press out as much liquid as you can. Transfer to a large mixing bowl. Beat eggs and egg whites until thick. Add to potatoes and onions. Add flour or matzoh meal (I like Matzoh meal), baking powder and seasonings. Mix well. Heat oil in a frying pan (about 1-1½-inches of oil ). When ready drop by large soup spoonfuls or shape with your hands to form oval shapes. Fry over moderate to high heat until brown on one side, turn to brown the other side. Remove from frying pan and drain on paper towels. Serve with sour cream or applesauce.

What you will need to make the latkes:

Peel your potatoes and leave them whole and place in a pot of cold water. Remove the skin from your onions and leave them whole as well.

With a fine side of a grater, grate your onions first. The reason you grate the onions first is that once you grate your potatoes, they begin to turn brown quickly. If you mix them with the onions as soon as you grate them, it slows this process down considerably.

Please be careful not to grate your fingers into the onions, lol. Perhaps, I should have added a box of Band-aids to the list of ingredients.

The onions will looks very fine and you will see a lot of liquid.

Now, using the large holes of the grater...

start to grate your potatoes.

Grate them on top of your onions, and toss occasionally, as you grate. Work quickly when you are grating your potatoes, as I said, they turn brown quickly! If you look carefully, you can see them already getting a pinkish hue.

After you toss the grated potatoes and onions well, place them in a fine hole strainer, and press down several times (I do this over a paper plate, or bowl, to extract as much liquid as you can from the mixture.

I only did half of the recipe for demonstration purposes and look at the amount of liquid that came out from three potatoes!

Place your egg (s) and egg white in a bowl

Whisk them together

Add the potato-onion mix to the eggs

Measure your matzoh meal or flour (I use matzoh meal, it is Chanukah after all :) ) Add your baking powder, garlic salt, salt and pepper to the matzoh meal.

Add the matzoh meal mix to the bowl. This is the point where you will determine if you need the extra egg or not. If the mixture is too dry, add the egg (beat the egg first before adding it). The mixture should not be too loose as it needs to hold together to maintain its shape.

Place about 1/2 to 1-inch of vegetable oil in a frying pan and let the oil heat

You can test the oil by dropping bit of the mix into the pan. When the oil starts to bubble, it is ready to begin frying the latkes.

You can either drop the latkes by tablespoonful or shape them in your hands which is what I prefer to do

Start frying your latkes, and smell the aroma...

Try to turn them only once and use a spatula not a fork if possible. If you avoid piercing them, they won't be greasy.

Drain on paper towels after they are nicely browned

Serve with either applesauce or sour cream and enjoy

Potato Pancake on Foodista

My favorite person, my husband Marc getting the Menorah ready for tonight before heading to the hospital to do a delivery!

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  1. I just finished cleaning up after serving my first brisket for night one of Chanukah. I followed the recipe above but I left out the mushrooms and celery because I did what I always do and went grocery shopping without a complete list of what I would need. The dinner came out very nice, but I made the mistake of not just buying a large brisket but an EXTRA large, 9 pound, double brisket (meaning it was very thick and too large to fit in any pan I had in the house). Not a single grocery store here had one. I ended up finding one from Wal-Mart though. The bottom half came out perfect but the top was a bit dry. Other than that the flavor was amazing!!! The vetables were the perfect tenderness. I look forward to cooking an average sized brisket.

  2. What a cool photo of Marc - he is such a good sport to pose for the blog :))