Happy Holiday (Eating)!

Latkes

Latkes (aka Potato Pancakes)

Wow, I just can’t believe how quickly these last few weeks have flown by. In fact, this whole year has been a bit of a blur. I hope it’s been a good year for you. As for me, let’s just say I’m ending the year in a better place than where I started it and am looking forward to seeing what 2010 will bring.

However, with all the recent activity I’ve sadly neglected my beloved blog. The sad truth remains that it’s been ten days since my last blog post, the longest I’ve ever gone between posts since launching this site more than a year and a half ago. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been cooking. I have, just not quite as much as usual.

English Toffee and Tornado Cookies

English Toffee and Tornado Cookies

To recap some of my holiday cooking, let’s start with Hanukkah at my parent’s house. I brought the dessert: English toffee and tornado cookies, my family’s holiday favorite. At the house, I helped my mom make latkes from scratch. There’s no recipe here because we adjusted constantly as we went along, using up a small bag of russet potatoes, an onion, two eggs, a little matzo meal, and a large bottle of vegetable oil. Basically, grate the potatoes and onion (and then pulse a few times in a food processor), add the other ingredients, season with salt and pepper, and fry.

Latkes Latkes Latkes

I have wonderful memories of my mom making latkes when I was younger. Back then we hosted the family Hanukkah party and she would make latkes from scratch and making enough for everyone was practically a day-long project (for those of you not familiar, latkes are fried potato pancakes that can be made from shredded potatoes or from a box mix). The problem was that my dad, sister and I would eat the latkes almost as fast as my mom could make them, sneaking latkes every time she turned away. Eventually, my mom would get fed up and send us to go see a movie so she could finish frying in peace.

Latkes - pan frying Latkes

It’s been a long time since we made latkes, and my mom had the “brilliant” idea of deep-frying them, a technique she saw on the Today Show. Despite her good intentions, it turned out not to be the best idea. For starters, she forgot to tell me advance so I could bring my candy thermometer and/or mini deep fryer, so we had a difficult time regulating the temperature of the oil. Secondly, the few latkes we made were too fluffy and lacked the coveted crispy edge. After a few not-so-good attempts, I finally convinced my mom to return to our traditional method of shallow frying the latkes in a skillet, a job my sister happily took over.

Another big event I cooked for was my sister’s annual holiday brunch where she gets together with her high school friends for their traditional Hanukkah gift exchange. I cooked for them last year and apparently the girls liked the food so much that my sister volunteered me to cook for them again. It’s fun for me, I’ve known these girls almost my entire life and I enjoy the opportunity to catch up with them.

While I was thrilled they enjoyed last year’s meal of baked challah French toast and savory frittata so much (a few of them even made the French toast on their own), I was worried I wouldn’t find a way top it. These girls love brunch food, which is a meal I don’t often cook, so I stuck with the general concept of an egg and vegetable dish, along with something starchy, and instructed my sister to provide fresh fruit.

Sticky Pecan Caramel Rolls

Sticky Pecan Caramel Rolls

The starch was the easiest decision: Sticky Pecan Caramel Rolls from my new favorite cookbook, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day (see Caramelized Onion and Herb Dinner Rolls). I’m not going to post another recipe from the book because I think everyone should buy it, but I will say that these rolls were amazing with just the right proportion of dough to the sugary sweet topping that seeped its way all around the rolls.

The egg dish was a bit more challenging. I wanted something that could be prepared in advance so I wasn’t cooking to order, and had a nice presentation. Somehow, while searching the Internet for ideas, I came across a number of blogs with posts about Gale Gand’s torta rustica (here’s the post at Pastry Heaven that I based my torta off of), essentially an egg and vegetable layered casserole baked inside puff pastry.

Torta Rustica

Torta Rustica

I didn’t follow the recipe precisely, but did use it as a guide. The most significant changes were adding a layer of halved cherry tomatoes, sauteing shallots with fresh spinach, omitting the ham, and using fontina cheese in place on mozzarella. Although it was a little fussy, the torta succeeded as a delicious showstopper, and you can see that I had some fun decorating the top with a star using pastry scraps (it was a Hanukkah party, after all) but you could easily add whatever decoration you liked.

Marci's Brunch - sticky roll and torta rustica

Marci's Brunch: Sticky Pecan Caramel Rolls and Torta Rustica

Those are just a few of the things I’ve been busy cooking these past two weeks and I promise to bring you new recipes soon.

Also, in January I’ll be taking part in the Ten in ’10 Challenge as a way to start eating and living a bit healthier. Not that I’ll be giving up sweets or obsessing about weight loss, but I do want to make more of an effort to eat better and get my butt moving, both challenges for me to do in the winter months. It’s not a New Years resolution (I don’t make those), but rather an idle thoughts whose time has come.

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