Dec. 11, 2020
By BARBARA SILVERSTEIN
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Samayach. Welcome to “Kitchen Talk,” the weekly food blog of the CJR. Yesterday evening, we lit the first Hanukkah candle, but at our house, we won’t be eating latkes until this weekend.
My husband, the family’s latke-maker-in-chief, swears by Norene Gilletz’s recipe for Easy Potato Latkes from the Food Processor Bible.
For people buying prepared latkes, there are several great places in the GTA to order from. One is Free Times Café, the College-Street eatery known in the community for “Bella! Did Ya Eat?,” its sumptuous Jewish-themed Sunday brunch.
In “Community Spotlight,” Free Times owner Judy Perly talks openly about the impact of COVID on her business. She’s definitely a survivor: her restaurant marks its 40th anniversary this month.
On Dec. 8, I attended the virtual Latkes and Vodka Workshop led by national food columnist and cookbook author Bonnie Stern and Rabbi Elyse Goldstein, spiritual leader of City Shul.
Stern prepared guacamole, sweet-potato latkes, and jelly-filled, donut-holes, her version of home-made sufganiot.
Rabbi Goldstein explained that the Hanukkah tradition of eating sufganiot originated in Israel during the 1920s. To help bakers increase business, the government encouraged them to make large, filled donuts for Hanukkah, a greasy treat that has grown in popularity over the years.
It turns out Rabbi Goldstein was a bartender in her college days. She invented and demonstrated some vodka martinis specifically geared to Hanukkah: “Menoratini,” “Chocolate Geltini,” and “Sufganitini” (a jelly donut martini!).
This week’s recipes include Gilletz’s Easy Potato Latkes as well as her Smashed Potato “Latkes,” a “no-grate alternative to potato latkes,” as she put it. It’s from The Brain Boosting Diet: Feed Your Memory. This may be heresy, but I actually prefer these “latkes” to traditional ones.
As well, there are two recipes from the Latkes and Vodka Workshop: Stern’s Jelly Filled Donut Holes and Rabbi Goldstein’s Menoratini.
Restaurateur Judy Perly is undaunted by COVID
This month Free Times Café, a restaurant/bar at 320 College St., will mark its 40th anniversary. Owner Judy Perly said she will be celebrating the milestone despite the impact of the pandemic on her business.
Over the years, she has faced significant challenges that have made her resilient and able to deal with problems brought on by COVID, she said in a recent telephone interview.
“I’ve had my business destroyed four times and I had to reinvent myself each time.”
With the pandemic, she has had to pivot from serving to catering restaurant fare. There is a big demand for the traditional Jewish foods she’s been serving at the restaurant. They’ll be delivering latkes to homes across Toronto.
Free Times’ Jewish themed Sunday brunch, “Bella! Did Ya Eat?” has become an institution in the Jewish community. For 25 years, people across the GTA have been enjoying the buffet laden with traditional foods like blintzes, bagels, lox, gefilte fish, salmon patties and other Ashkenazi delicacies.
The meal has always been accompanied by live Jewish or klezmer music.
Perly lamented that due to COVID, she could not celebrate the 25th anniversary of “Bella! Did Ya Eat?”
After a fire at Free Times in 1990, Perly decided to create the Jewish buffet – one of the times she had to reinvent herself.
“I wanted to get back to my roots and I wanted to reconnect to the Jewish community,” she recalled. “It was a success from day one.”
The first COVID lockdown last spring coincided with Passover. Perly let people on her mailing list know that she would be catering for the holiday. She had a huge response. The catering expanded to Sunday brunches, Friday night dinners, Shavuot and other holiday meals.
During the summer Perly was able to open her patio and have some live entertainment. Last month’s lockdown has created additional financial challenges.
On the eve of Hanukkah, the pace at Free Times was hectic. Perly and her staff were preparing orders for 400 latkes and other traditional dishes. “I am very grateful for the support I am getting from the Jewish community,” she mused. “They have kept the restaurant afloat for the last 25 years.”
EASY POTATO LATKES Norene Gilletz
4 medium potatoes, peeled or scrubbed
1 medium onion, cut in half
1/3 cup (100 ml) of flour or matzah meal
1 tsp (5 ml) baking powder
3/4 tsp (4 ml) salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tbsp (30 ml) oil plus extra as needed
Cut the potatoes in chunks and place them in the food processor bowl fitted with the steel blade. Add the onion and eggs. Process until pureed, about 20–30 seconds. Add the remaining ingredients except the oil. Process a few minutes longer for a smooth consistency.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Drop the potato mixture into the hot oil by large spoonfuls to form pancakes. Brown them well on both sides. Drain them well on paper towels and add
more oil as needed.
Stir the batter before cooking each new batch of latkes. They can be placed on a baking sheet and kept warm in a 250°F (130°C) oven. Makes 24 latkes
SMASHED POTATO “LATKES” Norene Gilletz
12 baby red-skinned potatoes (2 inches/5 cm in diameter)
Lightly salted water
1–2 tbsp (15–30 ml) olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Additional seasonings (to taste): dried basil, rosemary, thyme, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika
Boil the potatoes in enough lightly salted water to cover them for 15–20 minutes, until potatoes are fork-tender. Drain them well.
Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or sprayed foil. Place the potatoes in a single layer, about 3 inches (8 cm) apart, on the prepared baking sheet. Cover them with a piece of parchment paper. Smash each potato once or twice with the flat part of your palm, to make a flat disc. Round off any ragged edges by pushing them together with your fingers.
Brush the tops lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with seasonings.
Bake, uncovered, for 20–25 minutes, until the potatoes are golden and crispy. If desired, turn the potatoes over halfway through baking. (Optional add more oil for brushing). Makes 2–3 servings
• Easy hack: In Step 1, instead of boiling potatoes, roast them on a rimmed baking sheet for about 1 hour at 350°F (175°C), until they are fork tender. Continue as directed in Steps 2–5.
• In Step 3, use the flat side of a meat tenderizer to smash the potatoes.
BONNIE’S BAKED JELLY DONUT HOLES
1 cup (250 ml) all-purpose flour
½ cup (125 ml) sugar
½ tsp (2 ml) baking powder
¼ tsp (1 ml) baking soda
¼ tsp (1 ml) kosher salt
¼ tsp (1 ml) nutmeg
¼ cup (60 ml) vegetable oil
½ cup (125 ml) buttermilk*
1 tsp (5 ml) pure vanilla extract
¼ cup (60 ml) strawberry jam (remove any large pieces) topping
½ cup (125 ml) butter, melted
3/4 cup (375 ml) sugar
3/4 tsp (4 ml) cinnamon
* yogurt can be substituted for buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 375°F (180°C). Butter or spray with non-stick cooking spray a 24-cup mini muffin pan.
In a small mixing bowl whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg. In a medium sized bowl whisk the egg with oil, buttermilk and vanilla. Stir the wet ingredients together with the dry ingredients just until blended.
Individual ½ tsp (2–3 ml) portions of jam can be frozen a head of time or fill a zip-lock bag with jam, close and cut a small opening in one corner.
Place about 1 tsp (5 ml) of the batter in the bottom of each prepared muffin cup. Place a frozen jam portion or squeeze a small amount of the jam in the zip-lock bag in the centre of the batter that is in the pans and top the jam with another tsp (5 ml) of batter.
Bake 12–14 minutes until the cakes are puffed and lightly browned. Cool on wire racks.
Meanwhile, melt the butter and place in a shallow dish. Combine the sugar and cinnamon in another shallow dish. When the cakes are still warm roll them all over in the butter and then all over in cinnamon sugar. Makes 24 baked donut holes.
MENORATINI Rabbi Elise Goldstein
3 oz (90 ml) vodka
½ oz (15 ml) sweet vermouth.
Splash of blue curacao
Fill a cocktail shaker (or a 500 ml preserving jar with lid) with ice. Pour in the vodka and sweet vermouth and shake. Strain into 2 martini glasses, then splash in some blue Curacao and add a few fresh blueberries. Or put a “surprise” small drop of blueberry jam on the bottom of the martini glass!
You can also “rim” the martini glass. Before pouring the cocktail into the glass, dip it into 1 tbsp (15 ml) lemon juice mixed with ½ tsp (2 ml) vanilla. Dip the wet rim into blue or white coarse sugar, available at some bulk food stores.