Chris (my husband) is a computer whiz. He built ours from scratch, and it’s fast enough that it can do whatever it is that fast computers do. Sudoku or something. He knows all about virus software and spreadsheets and programming, and he’s sometimes a little bit…overzealous about trying to make it do things just for sport. So given his vast knowledge, you’d think he wouldn’t download viruses and screw everything up. But ahoy! He did! He says it was from downloading how-to videos on stock investing so he could play them on his iphone while he was at work. I say it was from looking at naked ladies. But I blame everything on that. Like the lightbulb above the sink went out, probably because of naked ladies. He insists he never looks at naked ladies, but if that’s so true, then since when did stock videos start coming with free viruses? Hmm? So he has the computer up and running again, though it looks nothing like it did before. All of my pictures are viewed with a yellow tint. Why? I don’t know. Probably because of naked ladies. And I can’t find any of my old links. So if this post looks screwy or the pictures aren’t attractive, then I’ll apologize on behalf of the naked ladies who advise on stock purchases.
With that said, I’ll move on to the point of this post.
I’m a total Jewish mother when it comes to food. Nobody can enter or exit my house without being force fed and sent home with leftovers, and if there is empty space on a pantry shelf, it immediately gets filled with some kind of canned or dried food because GOD FORBID there should ever be a garbanzo bean famine and I’m left unable to feed my family and all of the neighbors who may stop by to talk about the weather. Also, I like to save and use schmaltz for things, and the idea of 8 crazy nights seems brilliant. To my Jewish friends, thank you for letting me appropriate parts of your culture for my own. You’re a lovely people.
And why isn’t “Jew” an acceptable word in online Scrabble? It’s not like it’s derogatory or obscure.
But alas, I’m a gentile who loves bacon. Doesn’t mean I can’t get behind some decent Jew food, though. I was craving potato pancakes the other day, and I saw a recipe in Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc cookbook for scallion and potato cakes that looked phenomenal. Actually, they looked not unlike the hashed brown cakes they serve at Snooze, which is arguably the best breakfast that has ever been served anywhere. Instead of being blandly flopped around on a griddle, like at Ihop or another terrible chain diner, they’ve got this deep brown crust of shredded potato on both sides. When rapped with a fork, the crust gives way like the caramelized sugar on a creme brulee, revealing a creamy, flavorful shredded potato interior.
In the Ad Hoc version, the interior of the cake is laced with thin shreds of fresh scallions. In my version, there are also liberal studs of fresh black pepper. Why not? Black pepper is such a fantastic seasoning, and it seems like people have forgotten about it as of late, instead preferring to cover things in miso or ras al hanout or harissa. Those are all delicious, but you’ve got to give credit to salt and black pepper sometimes. They’re clean, honest ingredients that allow your food to be itself.
There was a crazy good deal on “london broil” at Whole Foods, so I picked some up. London broil is a dish, not a cut of meat, but that doesn’t stop butchers from using the term all willy-nilly. These were basically just thick top round steaks, which means a few things. First, they wouldn’t be very tasty braised, since they’re lean and don’t have much connective tissue. Second, they’d need to be medium rare and sliced against the grain. Easy enough, right? A quick trip to the grill or the broiler and we’d be all set. But I felt like sous-viding, so that’s what I did. I rubbed the beef with a basic steak seasoning blend (Wash Park All-Purpose seasoning from Savory Spice Shop in Littleton), then sealed it up in the chamber sealer and stuck it in the water bath at 115 degrees for three hours. Then a quick sear, a rest, and slicing, and it was ready to go. I served it at room temperature with the potato cakes.
3 lbs Large Russet Potatoes
½ Cup Cornstarch
Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Preheat the oven to 200˚F. Set a cooling rack on a baking sheet.
Cut away the ends of the scallions on a severe diagonal and discard, and then cut the dark greens into very thin slices. (Reserve the remaining scallions for another use.) Set aside.
Set up a food processor with a coarse shredding blade. Peel the potatoes and shred them. Immediately transfer them to large bowl of cold water and swirl and rinse the potatoes. Lift them from the water and dry in a salad spinner. Transfer to another large bowl. Spoon the cornstarch around the sides of the bowl and toss the potatoes with it (adding the cornstarch this way will help to coat the potatoes evenly). Do not let the potatoes sit for too long, or they will release their starch and the centers of the potatoes can become sticky.
Heat some oil in a 10-inch nonstick frying pan over medium high heat until the oil is shimmering. Turn down the heat to medium. Add 1/6 of the potatoes, gently spreading them into an 8 to 9-inch circle. Keep the potato cake light and airy; do not press down on the potatoes. Season the mixture with a generous pinch each of salt and pepper. Reserve ¼ cup of the scallion greens for garnish, and sprinkle 1/3 of the remaining scallion greens over the potatoes. Carefully spread another 1/6 of the potatoes on top; again, do not press down on them. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for 6 to 7 minutes, to brown the bottom
. You should hear the potatoes sizzling in the oil; if the potatoes get quiet and are not sizzling, or the pan looks dry, add a bit more oil. Turn the pancake over to brown the second side. The pancakes are somewhat fragile and can be difficult to flip with a spatula; if you don’t feel comfortable turning them, invert the pancake onto the back of a baking sheet, held tilted over a second baking sheet, as some oil may seep out, then return the pan to the heat and slide the potato cake into the pan browned side up. Cook until the second side is browned and crisp, then transfer to the rack and keep warm in the oven while you cook the remaining 2 pancakes.
Cut each pancake into 4 wedges, stack on a platter, and garnish with the reserved scallion greens.
There are a lot of WORDS in this recipe, but it’s really simple. And I found when the recipe suggested to cook for “6-7 minutes,” that the author of the cookbook was probably high. It took me at LEAST 10 minutes to get a good golden brown on the bottom. I’m a stickler for that golden brown crust. Pale, anemic looking breads and meats and potatoes just make me feel sad on the inside. They’re the food equivalent of a limp, clammy handshake, where you’re asking yourself “are your hands schwaggy because you’re nervous? Or have you spent the last 45 minutes in your car with the windows rolled up and your hands on your balls?”
Scallion pancakes though? Not gross. Make them. And make some inexpensive cut of pastured steak to go with them, because they go so well together. And the leftovers make a breakfast to die for, for the days you can’t get to Snooze, or for when your neighbor stops by to tell you about how the weather is going to change soon because her hip has been acting up and that’s a SURE SIGN that the weather is going to change, or that there are naked ladies afoot.