Celebrate Hanukkah With New And Traditional Recipes

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.

COMMUNITY SPOTLIGHT:

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.”

Judy Perley with Latkahs

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 
2 eggs
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

Norene’s Notes:

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
1 egg
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. 

Posthumous Honour for Cooking Maven Norene Gilletz

By BARBARA SILVERSTEIN

Last weekend, friends and admirers of the late food maven Norene Gilletz received very exciting news on Facebook: Canada’s “Queen of Kosher Cuisine,” was posthumously inducted into the Taste Canada Hall Of Fame.

Norene Gilletz
Norene Gilletz

Taste Canada is an umbrella organization that connects food and beverage writers, publishers, chefs, restaurateurs, farmers, industry, culinary colleges, media and cookbook fans.

Gilletz’s induction was part of Taste Canada’s virtual awards ceremony that was live-streamed on Facebook the evening of Oct. 25.

She was honoured for lifetime achievement in culinary writing.

Indeed, she authored 12 books, articles for a host of kosher publications, and was a long-time columnist and food blogger for The Canadian Jewish News.

Gilletz died last February. She was 79.

Taste Canada also announced awards in a number of categories for the country’s best cookbooks of 2019. Gilletz’s last book, The Brain Boosting Diet: Feed Your Memory – co-written with the late Edward Wein – was on the long list of nominations for a Taste-Canada Award in the category of Health and Special Diet Cookbooks.

Gilletz’s induction into the Taste Canada’s Hall of Fame was serendipitous, related Carol Press, the administrator of Norene’s Kitchen, an 11,000-member Facebook group founded by Gilletz in 2011.

Press said she came across a Facebook page for the Culinary Historians of Canada (CHC), where she discovered the Taste Canada Hall of Fame.

“I had contacted Taste Canada about this time last year about considering Norene for the award…I wrote them a letter. I told them who I was and I gave a brief introduction to Norene.”

Press wrote about Gilletz’s culinary accomplishments including her role as editor of Second Helpings, Please!, the iconic kosher cookbook that launched Gilletz’s culinary career.

“I told them that she had a new book coming out and that she was in her late 70s…They said they would take this into consideration for 2020.”

Just two days before Gilletz’s death, Press said she contacted Taste Canada again. “I don’t know what possessed me… I wish I had known about the award earlier.”

She said Gilletz was very tech savvy, having embraced new culinary technology like the microwave and food processor ahead of others.

Press pointed out that Gilletz also understood the role of social media and was connecting to her followers on Facebook, years ahead of people her age.

Gilletz’s son, Doug Gilletz, a culinary instructor and trained chef, also got involved with the CHC. “I decided to join the Culinary Historians as a way of promoting Mom,” he said from his home in Montreal. “Carol nominated her last year.

“In June we were told that she would be an inductee into the Hall of Fame, but we couldn’t tell anybody…I thought it was a great honour.”

He said he and his two siblings were hoping to attend the ceremony in person, but with the persistence of COVID, the awards evening became a virtual event,” Doug recalled.

“They gave us approval two days before the Taste Canada Awards [ceremony] to announce the event on Facebook.”

Gilletz said his mother was hard-working throughout her career. “She never took a vacation. She’d always be on her iPad. She never stopped.

“Even when she was in the hospital, she never took a break. She would tell me who to call and who to contact. She got a lot of satisfaction from her work.”

Apple Cake and Pumpkin Challah Are Festive Fall Holiday Dishes

Oct. 9, 2020 

By BARBARA SILVERSTEIN 

Shabbat Shalom, Chag Samayach, and Happy Thanksgiving. Welcome to “Kitchen Talk,” the weekly food blog of the CJR. This weekend we celebrate Sukkot, Simchat Torah as well as Thanksgiving.

I always associate apples with Simchat Torah. The holiday evokes childhood memories of me marching in the synagogue social hall waving an Israeli flag topped with an apple.

In memory of those Simchat Torah celebrations, I have chosen a recipe for a healthy apple dessert. Apple-Licious Cake, from the late Norene Gilletz’s last book, The Brain Boosting Diet: Feed Your Memory.

Thanksgiving conjures images of sweet potatoes and pumpkins. I found a delicious sweet potato recipe in Simple, a popular cookbook by Israeli celebrity chef Yotam Ottolenghi. His Sweet Potato Mash with Lime Salsa is very festive, as is Pumpkin Challah. Both dishes would be good choices for Sukkot, Simchat Torah, and Thanksgiving.

The pumpkin challah is adapted from a Maple Kabo-Challah recipe I acquired from Building the Jewish& Cookbook, a monthly virtual cooking program offered through the Miles Nadal JCC.

Lauren’s Pumpkin Kabo Challah

APPLE-LICIOUS CAKE Norene Gilletz

6 large apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced (Cortland, Spartan, or Honeycrisp
Sweetener equivalent to ¼ cup (60 ml) brown sugar, lightly packed
2 tsp (10 ml) ground cinnamon.

Batter:

½ cup (125 ml) whole blanched almonds, or 1½ cup (125 ml) almond meal.
2 large eggs
2/3 cup (160 ml) sugar
1tsp (5 ml) pure vanilla extract 
¼ cup (60 ml) canola oil
½ cup (125 ml) unsweetened applesauce
1¼ cups (310 ml) whole wheat flour
2 tsp (10 ml) baking powder 
½ tsp (2 ml) ground cinnamon 
Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C). Spray a 7 × 11-inch (18 × 28-cm) glass baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.

Filling: In a large bowl, combine the apples with sweetener and cinnamon; mix well and set aside.

Batter: In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, process almonds until finely ground, about 25–30 seconds. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Add the eggs, sugar, vanilla extract, oil, and applesauce to the food processor. Process for 2 minutes, or until smooth and creamy. Don’t insert the pusher into the feed tube while processing. 

Add the ground almonds along with flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt; process just until combined.

Using a rubber spatula, spread about half the batter in the prepared pan. Spread the apple filling evenly over the batter. Top with the remaining batter and spread evenly. Some of the apples will peek through. 

Bake for 50–60 minutes, until golden brown.

Norene’s Notes:

Berry good variation: Replace half the apples with your favourite berries, for a total of 4–5 cups (1–1.25 L) fruit.

Nut allergies? Replace the almonds with either ½ cup (125 ml) wheat germ or whole wheat pastry flour.

SWEET POTATO MASH WITH LIME SALSA Yotam Ottolenghi

2 lb 2 oz. (1 K) sweet potatoes, unpeeled and cut in half lengthwise
¼ cup/ (60 ml) olive oil, divided
¼ cup (60 ml) fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
¼ cup (60 ml) fresh basil leaves, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C)

Rub the potatoes with 1 tbsp of oil and season with ¼ tsp (2 ml) salt. Place the potatoes on a parchment-lined, baking sheet, cut side down, and roast for 30–35 minutes, until very soft.

Prepare the salsa: While the potatoes are roasting make the salsa. Put the remaining oil in a bowl. Add the basil, cilantro, garlic, lime zest, lime juice and a good pinch of salt. Stir to combine. 

Once the potatoes are cool enough to handle, remove the skins or scoop the flesh out with a spoon. Mash the flesh together with 1/8 tsp salt and plenty of black pepper until smooth.

Transfer the mashed potato to a platter. Create divots in the surface and spoon the salsa evenly over it. Serve hot as a side dish.

COMMUNITY SPOTLIGHT

The Miles Nadal JCC is offering virtual cooking classes. Lauren Schreiber-Sasaki, a Jewish life programmer at MNJCC, runs Jewish&, programs geared to multi-faith, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic members of the Jewish community. “Jewish& celebrates Jewish diversity,” she said.

COVID restricted in-person programming, so Schreiber-Sasaki said she came up with “Building The Jewish& Cookbook,” a monthly online cooking program that brings the Jewish& group together along with other interested participants.

“Building The Jewish& Cookbook” focuses on recipes that blend various traditions and cultures. I signed up for the Maple Kabo-Challah class led by Carmel Tanaka, a community engagement professional based in Vancouver.

This unusual Japanese-style challah incorporates kabocha, a Japanese pumpkin (canned pumpkin purée can be substituted). Her recipe reflects her Jewish and Japanese heritage. Her mother is Israeli and her father is Canadian of Japanese heritage.

Tanaka calls herself Jewpanese and has even started a monthly virtual event with others of similar heritage. She is also the founder of JQT Vancouver, a Jewish-queer-trans nonprofit.

Tanaka said she learned to make challah when she worked at Hillel. She was taught the basic recipe by the late Robbie McConnell of the Montreal Gazette. His recipe is the foundation for her maple kabo-challah.

The next episode of “Building The Jewish& Cookbook” will be held on Nov. 8 and will feature Montrealer Kat Romanow. She is known for her Wandering-Chew food tours of Montreal’s old Jewish neighbourhoods. 

To register: https://www.amilia.com/store/en/miles-nadal-jcc/shop/activities/2864377

MAPLE KABO-CHALLAH Carmel Tanaka

Braided Kabo Challah

1 cup (250 ml) lukewarm water, divided
1 tbsp (15 ml) sugar 
1 tbsp (15 ml) instant yeast (2 packages) 
¼ cup (60 ml) honey or maple syrup
¼ cup (60 ml) neutral-flavoured oil (i.e. corn, grape seed, etc.)
1 cup (250 ml) kabocha* (prepared in advance)
4 eggs, divided
1 tbsp (15 ml) kosher salt
4–4.5 cups (1 L) unbleached all-purpose flour
Additional flour if necessary.
1 egg yolk mixed with water for egg wash.
Poppy seeds, black or white sesame seeds, preferably toasted
Maldon sea salt flakes (optional)
*NB substitute pumpkin purée for kabocha 

Prepare the kabocha:

Oil for brushing 

Cut the kabocha in half. Scoop out the seeds. Brush the kabocha with oil.

Bake at 350°F (180°C) until the kabocha is soft so you can poke your fork through easily and the edges begin to caramelize. Mash and let cool. This step can be done ahead.

Prepare the Pumpkin Purée:

Place a cheesecloth over a container (an elastic band can secure the cheesecloth). Place a scoop of canned pumpkin purée on the cheese cloth and let the liquid drain into the container. Continue until you have 1 cup of drained pumpkin purée. Discard the liquid. This step can be done ahead

To Make the Challah:

In a small bowl combine the kabocha or the pumpkin purée with 1 lightly beaten egg and set aside.

In a large bowl of a stand mixer dissolve the sugar in ½ cup (125 ml) warm water. Sprinkle the yeast in the water and let stand 8–10 minutes until foamy. 

Once the yeast is activated add the remaining water, oil, honey or maple syrup, salt and mix well.

Roughly beat the eggs in a small bowl and add to the mixing bowl. Incorporate all the ingredients well. Add the kabocha or pumpkin purée and mix well.

Add the flour by cupfuls to the egg and pumpkin mixture and incorporate. Mix until the dough is shaggy and still a little moist, adding small amounts of flour or water if necessary. A dough hook can be used.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for 2 minutes by hand until the dough is smooth and elastic. It should not be sticky. Place the dough in a large greased bowl, turn to make sure all the surfaces are greased. Cover with plastic wrap or a clean damp towel and let rise in a warm place. After 1 hour, punch down the dough to remove the air pockets. Let the dough rise for another hour. 

Punch the dough in the bowl to remove any additional air pockets. Turn the dough out onto to a floured surface or a sheet of parchment paper. Knead for 2 minutes before shaping.

To shape: 

Traditional braided challah: Divide the dough in half. Divide each half into 3 equal pieces. Roll the pieces into 3 long strands. Braid them loosely tucking the ends under. Repeat with the remaining dough to form a second loaf. 

Pumpkin-shaped challah: Divide the dough in 4 equal balls. Using a long thread or butcher twine tie each ball in a way that the ball is divided into 6–8 parts.

Do not tie the balls too tightly as they will continue to rise during the second proofing and baking.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (160°C) Cover the loaves with a damp cloth and leave them to rise for 30 minutes.

Transfer the bread to two parchment-lined baking sheets. When the bread has risen, mix a few drops of water to the reserved egg yolk and brush the wash onto the entire surface of the loaves or balls.

Sprinkle on the poppy or sesame seeds and the Maldon sea salt flakes if using. Then slide the bread into the preheated oven. Bake for 25–40 minutes. Halfway through the baking, rotate the trays to get even baking on all sides.