Saturday, January 14, 2012

Happy New Food Year!

I returned to my parents' house last month with the lingering memories of their teeny tiny 1950's kitchen and all the family members we crammed in it while rendering dish after dish of soul-soothing food.

What I found on arrival was a brand new kitchen, replete with six-burner professional grade gas range, granite counter tops, self-closing drawers, and a huge a-symmetrical island with a second prep sink built-in.

I wasn't exactly surprised. In fact, I'd dragged my sorry self out of bed many a Saturday morning to meet with their designer to get my ideas into the mix.

I'm so proud of them for finishing this. Kudos to my mother who, god love her, is the most notorious pack rat that ever was.
It took a lot for her to throw and give away so much of the past. But in the end, everyone will benefit. And what a workspace...

What you see here are the peels of 15 pounds of potatoes. My mom, my sister, and I fried latkahs for two hours one morning while I was back in preparation for the big family Chanukah party.

Normally when my mom makes latkahs, the smell of fried potatoes and onions is detectable at the end of the street and the scent lingers in our hair and on our clothes for a week. But I have to hand it to them, my mom and dad went all in on their renovation and the overhead fan they installed left nary a trace even twenty minutes after we finished frying.

Using a food processor, shred 5 pounds of russet potatoes and a bag of regular yellow onions.

Transfer to a large bowl, add a couple of eggs, about a half a cup of flour and about 2 tablespoons of baking powder. The baking powder helps them crisp.

Form into palm-sized flat cakes, squeezing out all excess liquid. Fry in hot vegetable oil. Use a lot, but don't cover them completely. Remember to tap down the centre of the patty so that the thickness is dispersed and the latkahs cook evenly.

Turn with caution. Use a spatula and a long fork. When cooked to golden brown on both sides, remove from frying pan and transfer to paper towel covered plate.

I returned to Montreal just in time for Christmas. J's family was extremely generous with me as this was our first Christmas together here. We had a wonderful meal with his mom and the whole day was very merry. The gift giving, of course, was just wonderful. I didn't even get to see my nieces and nephew open the gifts we gave them on account of being so busy opening presents of my own. Two of the highlights were the popcorn hot air popper for J's sister Melissa and the bread making machine from J's grandmother, Nanny. I've only ever made bread the old fashioned way. It takes forever, which is why I hardly ever do it. But fresh bread is just about the most enticing smell ever to be emitted from any kitchen, and so I'm so happy to now be able to just toss the ingredients in, push a few buttons, and let it do its thing. Hurray for robot kitchen helpers! J's mom got me my first food processor. I can't wait to make spanikopita with that thing. Stay tuned...

What I love about the end of the year is all the marvelous best-of lists that come out. So you can imagine my glee when I came across "The Best of America's Test Kitchen: Best Recipes and Reviews 2012"

First to be made was their "Ultimate Banana Bread" recipe. So simple. The tricky part was that it calls for a microwaving step. I've never had a microwave in any of my kitchens, so I had to use the stove instead. In the end I don't think it made that much of a difference.

1 3/4 C all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
6 large, over-ripe bananas (I freeze mine when they get to this stage, if you do too, only use 5 from the freezer and use one fresher one)
8 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs
3/4 C packed light brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/5 C walnuts, toasted and chopped coarse (I skipped this)
2 tsp granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees with the rack in the middle position. Spray a 8 1/2 inch by 4 1/2 inch loaf pan with vegetable oil spray. Combine first 3 ingredients in a large bowl.
Place 5 peeled bananas in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap, poking vents in the top for steam. Microwave until bananas are soft with liquid released in the bowl, about 5 minutes. I mashed the bananas and let them simmer on the stove for 5 minutes instead.
Place a fine mesh strainer over a medium size bowl and transfer hot bananas to the strainer to drain out the liquid into the bowl, stirring occasionally. Let it drain for 15 minutes. At the end you should have about 3.4 C of liquid. Transfer banana solids to a bowl.
Pour liquid into a saucepan and cook over medium-high heat for 5 minutes. Liquid should be reduced to 1/4 C at this time. Now pour the reduced liquid back in with the bananas and mash together. I know this sounds silly, but what you've just done is extracted a lot of intense banana flavour, caramelized and intensified the flavour, and returned it to the mix.
Add butter, eggs, sugar, and vanilla to the banana mixture. Stir to combine. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until just a little white is visible. Transfer to prepared loaf pan. Top with final banana, making two lines of banana slices, 1/4 inch think, arranged in a shingle pattern, one slice layered slightly on top of the one before.
Make sure to leave the middle clear to allow steam to evaporate as the batter bakes and ensure an even rise. Sprinkle the whole top with granulated sugar.
Bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about one hour. Rotate the pan halfway through baking. Cool in pan.

I also plan on using my slow cooker a lot more this winter. The spaghetti and slow cooked meatballs I made recently were so good and the convenience of having food for another two days after is very reassuring as school gets more demanding. And they were so juicy... even David couldn't resist climbing down off the bookshelf to get a closer look.

There are so many things to try. I would really like to expand my repertoire to include some new things on my list of go-to meals. That's what trying new things is all about, after all.


  1. Your parents new kitchen sounds amazing!!

  2. My breadmaker has been a work horse for a year, with no signs of letting up. Now bagels, pita, bread, pizza dough, everything is so much easier.

    And i miss the 1950's kitchen but totally covet the new kitchen.

    Miss you and yours!