The expectations for our family’s holiday meals are usually as rigid as the compartments of a plastic prison plate. Any deviation, any scrambling of tradition (“Who put raisins in the cranberry sauce?” “You call this a latke? It looks more like matzo brei!”) is treated as heresy. The offending cook can expect hours of protest, and maybe a loss of skillet privileges.
This year, that all ends.
As the two Google Calendars that rule our lives, Jewish and secular, collide in spectacular fashion, we are letting the gravy of one holiday freely flow into the olive oil of another. It’s been 125 years since Thanksgiving and the first day of Hanukkah coincided, and it won’t happen again for a very long time, so we’re declaring this a Jubilee Year. Why shouldn’t our menu be as commingled as our own DNA?
As in most American Jewish families, our lives are a mash-up of heritages and food traditions. David is Eastern European and German, with a smoky layer of Kansas City barbecue culture. Susan is southern Italian and Sicilian. She learned about keeping kosher through conversion classes. Even before the calendar collision, we were mixing it up in ricotta blintzes with pignoli, Shavuot lasagna and other holiday meals.
On Nov. 28, there will be three candles ready in the menorah by the time the turkey leaves the wood fire. (Hanukkah starts at sundown Wednesday, so depending on how long this meal lasts, we’ll probably be lighting candles for the second night around the time the pie comes out.)
The challenge this year is to serve a meal that honors our traditions, makes room for fresh influences from our grown sons and blends the best of both holiday menus into one epic feast. For help, we turned to the Dining section’s own Melissa Clark, who picked out the most promising notes in our family cookbooks and developed recipe combinations that pulled the meal together.
It was Melissa’s idea to serve our Hanukkah brisket next to the turkey, as if she knew David’s grandmother always served two kinds of meat at every holiday, a subconscious demonstration of abundance by a Holocaust survivor who understood privation.
We won’t be the only family this year mixing holiday flavors and inventing new customs on our feet. This year’s supercollider is an invitation to make something new that lasts. But not cranberry sauce with raisins.
David Firestone’s latkes
Time: 1 hour
1 large yellow onion, quartered
2a pounds Idaho baking potatoes, unpeeled
2 eggs, lightly beaten
f cup matzo meal
4 to 5 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon salt
f teaspoon ground black pepper
2 to 3 cups olive oil
1. Place the onion in a food processor. Pulse the blade a few times until the onion is diced into crunchy bits. Remove blade and scrape the bits into a small bowl. Return the food processor bowl to the machine. No need to wash it yet.
2. Scrub the potatoes with a brush and cut lengthwise to fit into the processor feed tube. Put the medium-coarse shredding disk into the processor and turn it on. Begin feeding in the potato slices.
3. When potatoes are shredded, place in a colander over a large bowl. Dump in the onion bits and mix everything around with your hands, squeezing out the potato moisture as you work.
4. Pour the potato liquid out of the bowl, but leave the starch that clings to the bowl. Dump in the shredded potato and onion mix. Add the eggs, matzo meal, parsley, salt and pepper. Stir the mixture briskly, then let sit for about 10 minutes.
5. In a large cast-iron skillet, pour v-inch of olive oil. Over high heat, get the oil very hot. Using a v-cup measure or a long-handled serving spoon, start spooning the batter into the skillet. Flatten each with a metal spatula to a diameter of 4 to 5 inches. Do not try to make the latkes uniformly round. Reduce heat to medium and cook latkes until golden brown on one side, about 5 minutes. Turn them over and fry some more, another 5 minutes or so. When crispy on the outside and moist inside, remove latkes and place on several thicknesses of paper towels. Repeat until you run out of batter.
6. Serve latkes immediately, with squash pumpkin preserves.
Yield: About 16 latkes
Portuguese pumpkin preserves
Time: 45 minutes
450 grams (4 cups) peeled and diced butternut winter squash, such as butternut or pumpkin
170 grams (gcup) sugar
Large pinch kosher salt
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1. In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the squash, sugar, salt and cinnamon. Simmer over medium heat until squash is tender and most liquid has evaporated, about 20 minutes.
2. Remove pot from heat; using a potato masher or fork, smash the squash until completely broken up. Stir in lemon juice. Return pot to heat and simmer until most liquid has evaporated and squash develops a pasty consistency, about 5 minutes. Remove and discard cinnamon stick.
Yield: 1z cups
Sweet and sour braised brisket with cranberries and pomegranate
Time: 4a hours
2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
7 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon finely chopped rosemary
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon kosher salt, more as needed
1 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or hot paprika
5 pounds brisket, preferably second cut, trimmed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 (12-ounce) bag fresh cranberries
a cup fruity white wine
s cup apple cider
2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses, optional
Chopped parsley, for garnish
1. Heat oven to 450 degrees. In a small bowl, combine the garlic, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, rosemary, black pepper, 1 tablespoon salt, chili flakes, and Aleppo pepper. Place the brisket, fat side up, in a large Dutch oven. Rub meat all over with the spice mixture. If you have time, let meat rest at room temperature for 1 hour. (You can skip this step if necessary.) Transfer pot to oven and roast, uncovered, 20 minutes.
2. While meat cooks, heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, 7 to 10 minutes. Stir in the cranberries and remaining 6 tablespoons sugar. Simmer, uncovered, until cranberries begin to break down, about 5 minutes. Stir in the wine, cider and pomegranate molasses if using. Season with salt.
3. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Pour cranberry mixture over the brisket. Cover and cook until meat is very tender, 3 to 3 z hours; turn meat every hour. Slice meat and serve with plenty of sauce and parsley for garnish.
Yield: 8 to 10 servings