The following is a guest post by Alli B. from El Paso, Texas, reprinted with permission from Earthbound Farm's new Food Stories section. According to the site, "We all eat, we all tell stories, and some of the best stories are about food. We're encouraging web users to submit their own stories, with photos and/or recipes. And we have thank-you prizes if the story is good enough to post. (Everyone gets an online coupon for $1 off purchase of any 2 Earthbound Farm products, just for participating.)"
My husband is on active duty in the US Army, and for our first holiday season together we were living in a little Arizona town called Sierra Vista, adjacent to Fort Huachuca where he was stationed. Since we'd only been married since the previous January and were just starting our life together, we couldn't afford to go home to California and our families for the holidays, so we were toughing it out in Sierra Vista.
Being Jewish, for me no holiday season was complete without my mom's fabulous potato latkes; by Christmas Day (which also happened to be the last night of Hanukkah), I was feeling pretty down at the prospect of the holiday season passing without them.
My husband, wanting to make me happy, suggested that we make them for Christmas dinner. Since he's Christian and had never tasted potato latkes before, I thought this would be a wonderful way to introduce him to a delicious new food and also to merge our holiday customs and traditions together, setting a precedent for the years of holidays to come. I enthusiastically agreed.
Not remembering the family recipe for potato latkes, I called my mom at home in Monterey, California. She patiently told me the quantities of each ingredient and walked me through all the steps. Right before hanging up, she added, 'Oh, and be sure to allow lots of time to heat up the oil for frying, since it needs to be very hot. Start up the stove and let the oil start heating while you peel potatoes and mix all your ingredients together, so it has enough time to get as hot as it needs to be.
I thanked her, promised we'd call the next day, and relayed the directions to my husband. He started pouring oil into the frying pan to heat while I set up shop on the other side of the kitchen with a big bowl, a grater, an onion, and 7 potatoes, dreaming of delicious crispy latkes with applesauce and sour cream.
Half an hour later, all the potatoes and onions were finally peeled, and mixed in with them was the egg, matzo meal, salt and pepper. It was time for cooking. We went back to the stove, and to my surprise, the pan with the oil was covered with a lid. Having never seen my mom cover the pan before, I asked my husband why he'd covered it.
He said, 'It gets hotter this way, and it heats up faster, so we don't have to wait as long and they'll cook faster.'
Having never taken college chemistry and being a very inexperienced cook to boot, I saw nothing wrong with this explanation. I lifted the lid to put the first round of latkes in. Smoke billowed out, followed by a giant fireball at least 3 feet wide!
I screamed, and my husband came running. He grabbed the lid and put it back on the pan, thus putting out the fire, and then he turned off the stove. By this point, the smoke alarm was blaring and I was hysterical, envisioning our apartment going up in flames.
My husband carried the hot pan outside and set it down on our porch to cool off in the freezing desert night air, assuring me that everything was going to be okay and that as soon as the pan cooled down, it would be safe to take the top off again. I, however, had scenes from the movie 'Backdraft' racing through my mind and could picture tomorrow's headline: Entire Town Burned To The Ground By Couple Cooking Christmas Dinner.
Finally, after I made him wait about an hour as well as call his own mother to make sure, he took the lid off the pan again... and nothing happened, of course. Crisis averted, we took the pan back inside and reheated it (with the lid off this time!) and enjoyed our Christmas dinner of po0tato latkes -- which tasted just like Mom's, fireball and all.
Alli B and her husband.
7 medium-sized potatoes, skins on
1 large onion, peeled
2 tablespoons matzo meal (a Manischewitz product available at most grocery stores)
2 eggs, separated
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon white pepper
Corn oil for cooking
Salt, applesauce, and sour cream for serving
COOKING TIP: Preheat the oil while you're preparing the ingredients, since it takes time to get to the high temperature needed for frying. (But make sure to leave the lid off your frying pan!)
Place a strainer into a LARGE bowl, and into that grate the potatoes and the onion (leave the skin on the potatoes, but wash them well). Mix together. Using clean hands, press the potato and onion mixture into the strainer to drain the liquid.
Discard the liquid from the bowl, and dump the potato and onion from the strainer into the bowl. Add the egg yolks, matzo meal, salt and pepper. Mix together. Beat the egg whites until they form hard peaks, and then fold them into the mixture as well.
Place large spoonfuls of the mixture into the hot oil and flatten to form pancakes 2-3 inches around. Let the latkes cook until crispy and brown, and then flip them over. Repeat until both sides are as crispy and brown as desired. Remove from the oil and drain on paper towels. Serve with salt, applesauce and sour cream.
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