By Robin Slick, Published
This month celebrates two meaningful holidays at the same time. Every so often, the holidays fall together, providing the backdrop for our combined-faith family to celebrate our cultures and traditions. This year the first candle is lit on December 22, marking the beginning of Hanukkah, followed by seven consecutive candle lighting nights, two of which coincide with Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Lighting takes place after sunset and it is customary to place the Menorah facing outward by a window for all to see that a Jewish home is celebrating the holiday.
While each holiday has different significance, both share similar traditions of decorating, gift giving, story telling, prayer, and cooking favorite dishes for family and friends who gather together to celebrate. Traditional recipes are most often showcased, providing a measure of comfort, guests knowing what to expect and looking forward to a particular dish, along with the story that accompanies it. These stories give meaning to the dishes chosen, either by the host chef or by someone who has brought a potluck item. In the end, holidays in our family are about coming together to honor people and memories of the past while also creating new memories with new people who are now a part of our family.
If you enjoy entertaining like I do, its exciting to find new inspiration each year, spicing things up and keeping it fresh, so to speak! I begin my preparation by looking at past recipes that have served me well, and then I look to the present moment. What do I have around me that would make our holiday unique and meaningful? Not hard to do this year since celebrating the holidays on Nantucket will be a first for our family and this island certainly provides an abundance of inspiration.
One of my favorite and most successful holiday party themes is a “Latke Vodka Party.” So the twist this year is to create a “Cranberry Infused Latke Vodka Party” highlighting this local ingredient in traditional Christmas and Hanukkah dishes and drinks. And yes, I am aware that Thanksgiving just passed, so why more cranberries? Well, I simply cannot resist these delicious tiny red orbs that deserve to be more than "on the side." Also, freezing them when they harvest in the fall works well for these recipes. This party theme is versatile, mix and match parts of the menu for a cocktail & dessert party or add local home chef, Jimmy Jaksic’s “Braised Cranberry Apricot Brisket” for a more elaborate meal. Scroll down for details on how to prepare this truly mouth-watering brisket.
Local cranberries go under the obvious brand name “Nantucket Cranberries.” The Nantucket Conservation Foundation owns and operates the Milestone Bog and Windswept Bog. Make sure not to miss the 2020 Cranberry Festival where you can get your fresh cranberries for next year.
These local gems were found at Aunt Leah's Fudge shop where she uses them for her homemade cranberry fudge varieties and her milk and dark chocolate covered cranberries. They make great favors for your guests, stocking stuffers or a Hanukkah night's gift.
Cranberry Infused Vodka Latke Menu
Vodka Drinks You have two options, make your own or buy it already infused. Bartlett’s Farm offers up a great recipe to infuse vodka with cranberries. However if time isn’t on your side, and you do not have days to wait for the infusing process, head to Cisco Brewery and pick up a bottle of their infused Cranberry Vodka.
Kian Ross, Fluid Combination Technician makes Cisco's signature cranberry infused vodka drinks: Nantucket Red, Madaket Mule, and Coatue.
Embrace the cranberry theme by switching up traditional Vodka & Tonic and Vodka & Soda cocktails to a "Cranberry Lime Vodka Tonic" or a "Cranberry Vodka Spritzer." Make these your holiday signature cocktails with a festive name of your choosing.
Cranberry Lime Vodka Tonic (serves 4) - 1 cup Cranberry Vodka, 2 cups Tonic, 1 Lime freshly squeezed. Lime wedges for garnish. Pour in a tumbler glass filled with ice.
Cranberry Vodka Spritzers (serves 4) Cranberry Simple Syrup: 6 ounces of Cranberries, 1½ cups Water and Sugar. Cocktail: 1 cup of Cranberry Simple Syrup, 1 cup Vodka, 2 cups Ginger Ale or Club Soda, and 1 Lime freshly squeezed. Cranberries, candy canes and lime wedges for garnish.
Technique: For the cranberry simple syrup, combine cranberries, water and sugar. Heat until the mixture boils, cover and reduce to a simmer and cook until cranberries burst. Remove from heat, use a slotted spoon to mash the cranberries to increase the the infusion. Strain the syrup, pressing firmly to get all the syrup. Transfer to a container and store in the fridge until ready to use. For the cocktail, in a tall glass with ice, add syrup, vodka and lime. Top off with soda choice. Garnish and serve.
Latkes Two Ways I make latkes from Yukon or Russet potatoes. I have tried other “of the moment” varieties, by which I mean latkes made from sweet potatoes and/or other root vegetables. Not a big fan of switching out the potatoes but toppings are an entirely different story. This recipe is the absolute basic and best (everyone thinks their recipe is the best) with the only ingredients, other than potatoes being egg, onion and salt. Be prepared for oil EVERYWHERE!
Potato Latkes (serves 4) - 4 large Potatoes, 1 large Onion, 2 Eggs beaten, Vegetable oil for frying, and a good amount of Salt, taste to your liking.
Technique: Peel the potatoes and onions. Cut into pieces that will fit your food processor and in batches (onions first) processor with the shredding disc attachment. Don’t worry if the liquid from the potatoes turns color (natural oxidation) but this can be prevented by placing the potatoes under cold water as you process. Put potatoes and onions in a large bowl, add the eggs and salt.
Fill a frying pan halfway with vegetable oil, test with a few drops of water to see when hot. Squeeze a handful of the mixture into your palm to eliminate starchy water and form a loosely held-together pancake. Place delicately in the pan and do not crowd. Brown and flip. As you fry in batches (always make double the amount of Latkes you think you will need - they go like hotcakes!) eliminate loose potato drippings that turn black and switch out the oil if it gets too dark. Transfer to a paper towel when done. What's great is you can make them ahead, wrap in foil and put in the fridge. Reheat at 300° but make sure to keep your eye on them. They will burn fast if not watched carefully.
Cranberry Apple Sauce (makes 3 cups) - Its as easy as making homemade apple sauce, just add cranberries and less apples. It freezes really well too. 12 ounce bag Whole Cranberries, ½ cup of Orange Juice freshly squeezed and using a potato peeler, slice the orange rind into flat longish pieces, 1 large Granny Smith apple peeled and chopped, 1/3 cup Sugar, 1/2 cup Water. Sour Cream for garnish.
Technique: In a large saucepan add ingredients, bring to boil over medium heat. Stir occasionally and simmer for 15 minutes. Sauce is finished when the cranberries burst and sauce becomes thick. Taste and add more sugar if not sweet enough. Serve a spoonful of sauce over sour cream on top of the latkes.
Smoked Salmon, Crème Fraîche and Fresh Dill Technique: Place smoked salmon over a dollop of Crème Fraîche on top of a latke. Fresh dill can be sprinkled on top for garnish. All toppings are best served room temperature over a warm latke.
Brazed Cranberry Apricot Brisket with Glazed Carrots Jimmy Jaksic's rendition of this Serious Eat's recipe will impress your guests for sure! Any questions about the recipe, you can find Jimmy behind the bar at Le Languedoc Bistro, bartender extraordinaire, serving up memorable cocktails. Make sure to plan ahead when ordering your brisket and leave enough time for its preparation. Butcher Shad Mosher at Nantucket Fish & Meat Market will gladly trim off just the right amount of fat for a perfectly tender brisket.
The Rub: Salt, pepper, dark brown sugar, garlic powder, onion powder, smoked paprika, hot paprika, and mustard powder. Coat brisket and let sit for at least 40 minutes and up to a day, refrigerated.
Braising and sauce ingredients.
Any room left for dessert? After spending a good amount of time preparing the brisket, dessert you can short-cut by purchasing homemade jelly donuts from Primrose at The Nantucket Bake Shop. Make sure to check holiday hours.
Two choices for the Nantucket Cranberry Pie. Either make your own with this Pioneer Woman recipe or stop into Wicked Island Bakery to get one. Be sure to order your pie with a couple of days notice. And while you're there, maybe grab some of their beautifully decorated holiday sugar cookies.
A fun way to include your guests, is to have them bring their favorite holiday decorated sugar cookies. Here are some of mine from both holidays.
Now that your guests have primed their bellies with food, its time for a game of "Drinking Dreidel." Did you know that the origins of the dreidel game had nothing to do with Hanukkah but actually something to do with Christmas? According to My Jewish Learning, "In England and Ireland there is a game called totum or teetotum that is especially popular at Christmastime. In English, this game is first mentioned as totum 1500-1520. The name comes from the Latin totum which means 'all.' By 1720, the game was called T-totum or teetotum, and by 1801 the four letters already represented four words in English: T~Take all, H~Take Half, P~Put down, and N~Nothing." So crazy to discover this!
In my adult version, the rules are the same but sips of vodka replace the winning and losing of chocolate coins. Gather round with your drink in hand and grab a dreidel. We have a bowl of keepsake dreidels that also look beautiful as a holiday decoration. They kind of remind me of Christmas ornaments because both are collectable, treasured and have stories from where they came from. Family members always have a favorite, just like with an ornament, and insist it be their personal dreidel for the game. They also make lovely gifts either for others or for oneself. If you only have one dreidel, that fine too, just pass it around with each person’s turn.
Rules: The first person spins: landing on Nun~ do nothing, on Gimmel~ take a BIG sip, on Hey~ take a half a sip, and Shin~ you get to chose who gets to take a sip. Each person gets one spin and then after their turn the dreidel is passed to the next person. Around and around it goes, just like the spinning top.
One last idea, if your not entertaining, or maybe your on your own, come join Nantucket's Congregation Shirat Ha Yam for their community holiday celebration at the Culinary Center. This year the Hebrew School kids will join Chef Greg and Avi Teken to make latkes on Monday, December 23 to later share at 5 pm with the community when they come together to light candles for the second night. All are welcome to this free event.
Happy holidays and a joyful New Year from this majestic island!