Sunday, December 13, 2009

Latkes. With 20 Four Year Olds.

I'm not totally a fan of those blogs that break down every step of a recipe in pictures. It's nice - and reassuring as you can check your progress along the way through a recipe - but these step-by-step "do as I do" methods seem redundant and I don't know, controlling. Call me a rebel.

For me, cooking is not a reassuring, measured step-by-step process with one way to do it and all kinds of safe buttons and trap doors to keep one from going over the edge. Cooking is spurting, splattering oil, slashing knife blades, the sound of cool water running over the backs of plump vegetables. It is mistakes and blunders and knife wounds and burnt forearms.

It is the thrill of the perfect cassoulet and the agony of a full dining room of Australians and a Pavlova that looks like it has been run over by a postal truck. It is looking in your fridge and not knowing what the hell you are going to cook, and knowing that you just invited the neighbors for lunch, but undaunted you pull out five lame ingredients and somehow turn that into the best meal of the week.

It's about cooking above your station and figuring out you can create something much more amazing than you thought. It's also about stupifying blunders, like dry, over-done pork, fallen souffles, a dash of salt instead of a dash of sugar, cookies left in the oven until they burn to little black crisps, kitchen walls covered in pureed asparagus after the blender top flies off, a house full of people and dinner on the table 45 minutes too late, lamb that is cooked exactly as long as you think it should be cooked and instead, unfathomably, it is blood-soaked rare, despite what the meat thermometer tells you.

It's also about that last minute save, the sauce that you nearly threw in the trash because it was leaning toward the inedible, that you gave a second chance and lovingly cajoled and prodded and eased back into itself, to form what it should have been all along.

Cooking is a game of chance. A surprise. It is magic, with the big ta-da moment. An extreme sport. And this is why I think kids like it so much. It fits with their sense of danger, abandon, mischief and unmitigated passion.

So, you see here, the kids from Lucy's pre-k class.

Fearless little chefs, wielding box graters and dodging flying drops of boiling oil to make their creations, warriors all of them, and athletes, magicians, escape artists, inventors, adventurers to boot.

This time we made Latkes.

Tomorrow, we round out Hanukkah with Matzo Ball Soup. Next week, we'll be doing two days of Xmas Cookie Hell. I imagine sprinkles in hair and up noses.

I got this Latke recipe from Smitten Kitchen and I am printing it here nearly verbatim. But it's simple enough that you can eyeball the ingredients and fly free and loose just a little, which is great because that is how kids like to cook. Be damned, quality control. No measuring cups, just lots of living dangerously. Footloose, baby.

We only had a hot plate at our disposal and the oil never really got as hot as I would've hoped. The Latkes crisped up on the outside, but not as much as I would've liked before soaking up a little oil. But considering our second rate equipment, they turned out pretty darn good. And who doesn't love a little extra oil?

By the way, when I made a test batch at home in my very hot, cast iron pan, they crisped up beautifully. I served them to David topped with a poached egg, creme fraiche and chives. I had mine with a slice of Nova, creme fraiche and capers. Edie ate hers with ketchup. Lucy tried them, but decided they tasted too much like french fries and this month we hate french fries. She had egg whites lightly fried in butter.

But I had to ask myself...Why do I only make these once a year? They are awesome brunch food. Even for a Catholic girl.

xo YM


Latkes (from Smitten Kitchen)


1 large baking potato (1 pound), peeled
1 small onion (4 ounces), peeled
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Peanut oil, for frying


On a box grater, coarsely shred the potato and onion. (Grating onions can be pretty pungent, so you'll be doing this for the kids). Wrap in a cheesecloth sling, and squeeze as dry as possible. Let stand for 2 minutes, then squeeze dry again. (Kids really love the shredding and the squeezing).

In a large bowl, whisk the flour, egg, salt and pepper together. Stir in the potato onion mixture until all pieces are evenly coated.

In a medium skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil until shimmering. Drop packed teaspoons of the potato mixture into the skillet and flatten them with the back of a spoon. Cook the latkes over moderately high heat until the edges are golden, about 1 1/2 minutes; flip and cook until golden on the bottom, about 1 minute. Drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining potato mixture, adding more oil to the skillet as needed.

Do ahead: You can keep latkes warm in the oven for an hour or more, if you’re waiting for stragglers to arrive. Cooked, they keep well in the fridge for a day or two, or in the freezer, well wrapped, for up to two weeks. Reheat them in a single layer on a cookie sheet in a 400 degree oven until they’re crisp again. Bonus: If you undercooked them a bit or didn’t get the browning on them you’d hoped for, you can compensate for this in the oven.



SaintTigerlily said...

Mmmm yummy. I was having a latke for lunch when I read this. Perfect timing!!

Warner (aka ntsc) said...

They look good

Anonymous said...

I love latkes. My grandmother used to make them. Kim, I just have to tell you how impressed I am with your amazing connection with children. Whether it's chalk art in Harlem, cooking in school or just plain having fun with them, everything seems to be pure joy. This is definitely your calling. Have a great Christmas. xxRita

Unplanned Cooking said...

Look at all the fun the little cuties are having! I think it's such a gift to cook with children.

Cali said...

i like the way you think about cooking :)