Enjoying Hanukkah with meat and potato latkes

With Thanksgiving behind us, time to start gathering local ingredients for the next holidays. In our household, that means meat and potatoes from Oxford’s Farmers Market.

We serve potato latkes twice in December, once for Hanukkah, which starts this year Thursday evening Dec. 7, and then again to accompany the beef at Christmas.

Hanukkah commemorates the victory by the Maccabees in 166 BCE that ended a period of religious persecution against Jews. The Maccabees captured Jerusalem, dedicated the Temple, and relit the Temple’s golden candelabra (menorah) with the small amount of available olive oil. Hanukkah comes from the Hebrew work for “dedication.”

Because the small amount of oil miraculously burned for eight days, traditional Hanukkah foods are oil-based. The most distinctive dish is potato latke.

To make latkes, grate 1 pound of potatoes and 1 small onion. If you are using good quality local potatoes, you don’t need to peel them. Any root vegetable that can be grated, such as turnip, is usable.

Next is the most important step to assure crisp latkes. Squeeze the grated potato inside paper towels until very dry.

Combine the grated potato with 2 beaten eggs, 1/2 cup fine bread crumbs or matzo meal, and salt and pepper to taste.

Heat oil in a pan, drop in a generous tablespoon of the grated potato, and spread thinly. I use grapeseed or avocado oil because they have higher smoke points than the ancient Temple’s olive oil.

Fry on medium-high heat for a minute or two per side until crisp. My vintage cast-iron skillet does a better job at making crisp latkes than a modern no-stick pan.

Don’t crowd the pan; better to fry in batches. Remove from the pan and place on wax paper until ready to serve.

Our local grass-fed open-range beef is low in fat and very flavorful, but care must be taken when cooking to prevent it from becoming tough and dry. The problem is accentuated when some prefer their meat well-done, as is the case with our visiting family members.

Here’s my secret to satisfy the well-done eaters while retaining juiciness. However, don’t let the well-done eaters see you do this.

I cook small filets from Caraway Farm only until very rare. Best bet is simply throw the steaks in a 350-degree oven for around 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, mince local garlic cloves and a small onion or shallot, and sauté in a large frying pan over moderate heat. Add red wine and stir in a spoonful of Dijon mustard. If wine is not appropriate in your household, use beef bone broth.

Now the trick. Slice the very rare steaks and place the pieces in the red wine sauce pan. After 1 or 2 minutes, turn over the pieces.

The red wine turns the bright red rare meat brown. The well-done eaters will find the color pleasing, as will the juiciness of the meat compared with the more familiar tough as shoe leather.

MOON Co-op is Oxford’s consumer-owned full-service grocery, featuring natural, local, organic, sustainable, and Earth-friendly products. The store, located at 516 S. Locust St. in Oxford, is open to the public every day. Go online to mooncoop.coop.

Tip from Jim

A tip I picked up from my family this year. With a young one in the house (2-year-old in our case), trim the bottom of the tree with bells not ornaments. That way, if (inevitably, when) the young one tries to mess with the tree, bells will sound, thereby alerting an adult. — Jim

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