Latke Off: Traditional vs. Sweet Potato

It’s Chanukah, which means chocolate gelt, jelly doughnuts and of course, the traditional potato latke.  Dave and I recently attended a Latkepalooza, where local Philadelphia restaurants created their own version of the holiday potato pancake.  At the event, we were debating about what a latke should taste and look like.  Dave enjoyed his mother’s potato latkes growing up and I remember being served the Manischewitz latke mix from a box (that hardly hold a candle to homemade ones).  Of the more traditional latkes served, there wasn’t one that hit the mark of what a latke is SUPPOSED to be.  From this conversation our Latke-Off was born.

I knew that a traditional latke should have a hint of onion and use flour and egg to bind it together.  Dave wanted to strive to reproduce his mom’s recipe, which apparently was only grated potatoes fried in oil.  So that is what he did, but substituted in sweet potatoes.  I found a recipe from Food and Wine Magazine’s blog that advertised the perfect potato pancake, and that is exactly what they were.

While Dave and I were both standing by the stove frying our pancakes, mine stayed perfectly together, while Dave’s first mound disintegrated into match stick fries.  He immediately added flour and egg to his potato mixture, which helped some, but not enough.  (We later realized that sweet potatoes have a different starch and water content than white potatoes, and that is why they didn’t stay together.)

Here is the final product of both our latkes and recipes to follow.  The sweet potato latke recipe I made a few years ago, and I promise they won’t fall apart on you.  The pictures are of our results from the Latke-Off; your results may vary.

Renee Simmons Latkes Recipe
Adapted from Food and Wine Magazine
Makes 8 medium-sized and one Super latke

3 1/2 pounds baking potatoes, peeled and halved
1 large yellow onion, cut into 8 wedges
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
canola oil, for frying
applesauce and sour cream for serving

1. Set a large strainer over a bowl. In a food processor fitted with the shredding disk, shred the potatoes and onion in batches. Add each batch to the strainer and let stand for 5 minutes, then squeeze dry. Pour off all of the liquid in the bowl and add the shredded potatoes. Stir in the flour, eggs, salt and baking powder. Scrape the mixture back into the strainer and set it over a bowl; let stand for 5 minutes.

2. In a very large skillet, heat 1/4 inch of canola oil until shimmering. Using a slotted spoon, spoon the potato mixture into the canola oil for each latke, pressing slightly to flatten. Fry over moderate heat, turning once, until the latkes are golden and crisp on both sides, about 7 minutes. Drain the latkes on a paper towel–lined baking sheet. Serve the latkes hot with applesauce and sour cream.

Sweet Potato Latkes
From the Sun Sentinal Newspaper

1 1/2 lbs sweet potatoes, peeled
1 medium onion
2 large eggs
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
vegetable oil, for frying

1. Grate sweet potatoes and onion, using grating disc of a food processor or large holes of a grater.  Transfer to a large bowl.  Beat eggs with salt and pepper and add to potato mixture.  Add flour and mix well.

2.  Heat 1/4 cup of oil in a heavy 10- to 12-inch skillet, preferably nonstick.  Fill a 1/4 cup measuring cup with potato mixture, pressing to compact it, and turn it out in a mound into skillet.  Quickly form 3 more mounds in skillet.  Flatten each with a back of a spoon so each cake is about 2 1/2 to 3 inches in diameter, pressing to flatten.

3.  Fry over medium heat 3 minutes.  Turn carefully with 2 slotted spatulas and fry second side about 2 1/2 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp.

4.  Drain on paper towels.  Stir potato mixture before frying each new batch and add a little more oil to pan.  Serve pancakes hot.  Makes about 4 servings.


Carrot Cake Cookies

‘Tis the season for holiday cookies, and plenty of them.  This time of year I gorge myself on cookies and other sweets, and then every year my New Year’s resolution is to cut back on the sweets.  Notice the cycle here?

I love the carrot cake cookies from Talula’s Garden and decided I was going to attempt to make them for my book club’s 3rd Annual Cookie Swap.  They turned out softer than the ones at Talula’s, but still had that great carrot cake flavor.  They also happen to be good for breakfast on the go.

Carrot Cake Cookies

Adapted from Gourmet
Makes about 24 cookies (12 filled cookie sandwiches)


3/4 cup golden raisins (2 1/2 ounces)
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
pinch of cloves
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/3 + 3 tablespoons cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup finely grated carrots (2 medium or 4 small)
1 cup walnuts (3 ounces), chopped

8 ounces cream cheese
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla


Place raisins in a small bowl and add enough hot water to cover. Set aside for 5-10 minutes, then drain thoroughly and pat dry.

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, spices, baking soda and salt.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter, sugars, egg and vanilla until smooth and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Mix in carrots, walnuts and raisins (drained!) on low speed. Add flour mixture and beat just until combined. Set dough in refrigerator to chill for 15-30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line two baking sheets with Silpats or parchment paper.

Working with one baking sheet at a time, drop 1 1/2 Tablespoons of dough per cookie onto baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake each sheet separately, 13-15 minutes or until centers spring back to the touch. Cool on pan for 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the frosting, pulse cream cheese and butter in a food processor, scraping down sides with a spatula as needed, until smooth. Add powdered sugar and vanilla, and pulse until combined.

If making ahead, store cookies at room temperature and frosting in refrigerator. Frost cookies before serving.

Top Ten Restaurants of 2011

Now that 2011 is almost over, I have compiled a list of my Top Ten Restaurants of the year.  I have noticed the more restaurants I visit, the judgier I become. I blame my increasingly discerning palate on two things:  1) Having patronized many fine dining establishments this year and 2) Starting culinary school.

1. August – John Besh’s small and intimate restaurant in New Orleans.  The execution of the dishes and service were impeccable.  Dave salivates just thinking about our meal there; we were too busy enjoying the experience to take any pictures!
301 Tchoupitoulas St
New Orleans, LA

2. Talula’s Garden – We first went to Talula’s for my birthday back in May and then went again with Dave’s parents in October to wish them Bon Voyage on their 6 month sailing expedition. In between our visits they replaced chefs, but I found the food didn’t change much.  Delicious both times!  Dave discovered his new favorite drink here, The Dreamer, which is a gin and tonic with cucumber.  What stands out for me is the cookie plate with the carrot cake cookies (which I attempted to replicate for my book club cookie exchange) and chocolate caramel sea salt bars.  Here’s a sneak peak.
210 W. Washington Square
Philadelphia, PA

3. One if By Land, Two if By Sea – In addition to the romantic atmosphere and the history of the building, this West Village establishment in NYC has a kick-ass dirty martini, made with horseradish-infused vodka that is, and excellent food to go with it.
17 Barrow St
New York, NY

4. – I’ve recently been recommending this Rittenhouse Square haunt a lot lately.  It has a nice balance of good atmosphere and food to match, and the tapas style menu is my dining preference. (Remember how I love to taste everything?) I enjoy it so much that I am even willing to overlook how they set the tables.  The octopus with quince chutney and chick pea fries is a favorite.
135 South 18th Street
Philadelphia, PA

5. Tashan – I LOVE Indian food and was completely devastated when I learned my favorite Indian restaurant Bindi was closing.  Dave and I ate there twice in its final weeks; we even went to their close-out sale and bought a few small bowls as a keepsake.  Even though Bindi will forever live in my heart, Tashan has now taken its place.  Craig LaBan knows.  He gave it 3 bells!
777 S. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA

6. Craigie on Main – Pork dominates the menu at this cute Cambridge, Mass., eatery.  Dave can’t stop talking about the crispy pig tails he ate there.
853 Main Street
Cambridge, MA

7. Monsu – Dave and I went to this BYOB on our 2nd date, and have brought his parents and then his sister and her boyfriend back since.  A Monsu is a French Chef that worked in Italy.  We tried frog legs here for the first time, but for me, it’s all about the Lasagna topped with fried egg.
901 Christian Street
Philadelphia, PA

8. Barbuzzo – This year’s addition to Chef Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran’s 13th Street empire has pizzas that are creative and tasty, but the salty sweetness of the Budino dessert is the real reason Barbuzzo makes the list.
110 South 13th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107

9. Farm and the Fisherman – This cozy BYOB in our neighborhood, owned by fellow Drexel alums, creates creative fare with its farm-to-table concept.
1120 Pine Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107

10. Neptune Oyster – This place deserves a shout out since it satisfied our quest for the Best Lobster Roll.  But you’ll have to travel to Boston to try it.
63 Salem Street
Boston, MA

Pseudo-Guest Blogger: Dave Experiments With Chocolate Covered Bacon!

Chocolate?  Yes!  Bacon?  Yes!  Chocolate covered bacon?  Sign me up!  That was my thought process when Mel asked me to be a guest blogger and write about my first foray into creating chocolate covered bacon.  Who could pass up such an offer?  It’s a sweet and savory treat that combines two foods that I thoroughly enjoy.  Just ignore the fact that they neither are healthy when considered by themselves, let alone together.

I had been talking about trying some chocolate covered bacon for a while.  One night when we were walking home from running errands, we stopped in front of Jake’s Sandwich Shop on 12th street.  There it was, staring me in the face: Chocolate Covered Bacon.  It was barely dinner time but I knew that we had to try it.  We found a few things odd when trying Jake’s version.  First, the chocolate taste noticeably outweighed the bacon taste; we decided this was because there was a huge amount of chocolate surrounding the thin piece of bacon.  Second, the bacon was very crispy, too crispy.  Last, the pieces were really small; it seemed like each piece only contained a small portion of a strip of bacon.

With these issues in mind, we scoured the internet for some good recipes to create chocolate covered bacon at home.  After finding a few, I combined what I thought were the best recommendations and methods and created my first batch.

The raw bacon

The melting chocolate

The finished product

All in all, the first batch was pretty good.  Mel and I got to enjoy most of it, and we even managed to share some as well.  I learned some lessons for next time, but you’ll get the benefit immediately!

Chocolate Covered Bacon

¾ lb of melting chocolate (milk, dark, white – it’s your choice)
1 lb of thick sliced bacon

  1. Preheat the oven to 350f.
  2. Line a big cooling rack with parchment paper.
  3. In a double boiler, melt the chocolate completely until it is smooth.  Use a whisk to ensure that all pieces are melted and that it is not lumpy.  Remove from heat after melted.
  4. While the chocolate is starting to melt, line two cooking sheets with aluminum and place the bacon strips on the sheets.  Bake for 15 minutes or until crisp.  Remove immediately from the oven and transfer the bacon strips to paper towels to soak up any excess oil.
  5. Place the bacon strip into the melted chocolate.  Use a spoon or fork to coat the bacon strip completely.  After coating, place on cooling rack.
  6. Put cooling rack in refrigerator for 30 minutes to set the chocolate prior to eating.

Cranberry Pumpkin Bread

Admittedly, I am not one to read the newspaper for current events, but I religiously visit the Food section online of both the Philadelphia Inquirer and The New York Times. I recently came across an article on a new exhibit at the Franklin Institute called Kitchen Science. In addition to making me wonder if I am too old to attend the cooking demonstrations, it included recipes from FI caterer, Steve Poses.  A recipe for Cranberry-Pumpkin Bread peaked my interest and I remembered the extra cans of pumpkin lying around in my pantry.  This recipe is quick and easy and is great for breakfast on the go, or even as an edible gift!  Aren’t the cracks in the bread beautiful?!

Cranberry-Pumpkin Bread
Adapted from Steve Poses via The Philadelphia Inquirer

Makes 1 loaf or 12 servings

1 1/2 tablespoons finely grated orange zest or orange juice
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 eggs
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted, or vegetable oil
2 cups cranberries, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries,  coarsely chopped
1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
2 cups all-purpose flour

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-5-by-3-inch baking pan.

2. In a large bowl whisk together orange zest or juice, pumpkin, sugars, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Whisk in eggs to combine, then whisk in melted butter or oil. With a spoon, stir in cranberries, dried cranberries, and pecans. Stir in flour until combined.

3. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake until the center is firm, risen, and slightly cracked, about 65 to 75 minutes.

Dave’s Weekend Chocolate Chip Banana Pancakes

I am a city girl through and through, but there are two things I miss from my past experience living in the ‘burbs:  1) A big jacuzzi tub and 2) a back patio where I can indulge in the laziness of a Sunday morning, while drinking my coffee and having a simple breakfast.  The next best thing are Dave’s pancakes, that I get to enjoy on most weekends.

Of all the things I can cook and bake well, pancakes are not one of them (although I have to say, it’s gotten better with the use of a griddle.)  So when Dave and I started dating, I put him to that task, and he eagerly agreed.  And that is how our weekend tradition of pancakes started.  For the first six weeks or so, he tested a new recipe every time, taking notes of the different ingredients, measurements of each ingredient, until he developed his own recipe.  It is now a household staple.

For his birthday, I even got him this handy dandy Pancake Pen, made by Tovolo, that squeezes out perfectly round pancakes.

These will be a great start to your weekend!

Dave’s Weekend Chocolate Chip Banana Pancakes Recipe
Makes 8-10 pancakes

1 1/2 cups of flour
~2 tablespoons of sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
~1/2-3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 large eggs (1 whole and 1 egg white)
1 1/3 cups of buttermilk
2 tablespoons butter (melted and cooled)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 banana (mashed or diced)
Chocolate Chips (amount is to your liking)

1) In a large bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon.
2) In a small bowl, whisk the egg, egg white, buttermilk, butter and vanilla.
3) Pour in wet ingredients into dry ingredients bowl, and gently stir until just combined.
4) Fold in the banana and chocolate chips and stir til batter is slightly lumpy.
Do not overmix.
5) Let batter sit for 15 minutes.
6) While batter is sitting, heat griddle to 350 degrees.  The trick to cooking a perfect pancake is to watch for the air bubbles to rise to the top of the pancake; when the top of the pancake starts to bubble, it’s time to flip it over.  Both sides should be lightly browned.

* We found out, by necessity, that substituting sour cream and milk (skim, whole, soy, almond, etc) for buttermilk made for a fluffier pancake.  If you opt for this, use two dollops of sour cream and 1 cup of milk.  Also, this recipe will work whether you use the bananas and chocolate chips or not, it’s your choice!