Happy Chanukah! You’re in for a treat. Today, Miranda Selwyn Bishop is sharing her family’s recipe for Potato Latkes.
Miranda is a super talented Los Angeles-based footwear designer who works at Seychelles. Not only is she a FIDM grad in Fashion Design and Advanced Footwear Design, she also has her Bachelor’s degree in English Lit from UCLA—which makes her instantly amazing. (This statement has nothing to do with the fact that I also have an English Lit degree from UCLA. Winky face emoji.)
Here’s a Q&A with Miranda so you can get to know her better…
Why is creative expression important? There are so many things we experience in life that we don't have words for. I use my creativity to express and explore these feelings. I have a number of hobbies that tickle my creativity in this way. I recently started taking an oil painting class and I regularly take Afro-Brazilian Dance classes to live drums. Cooking started out as one of those hobbies for me about 6 years ago and has became a major part of my life. I've even considered going to culinary school and opening up a cooking school with those dinner party type of classes. What I love about cooking is the unbelievable joy I get from making something I can share that nourishes others. It seems like the ultimate gift to prepare a lovely meal for someone. It deeply satisfies a maternal nurturing part of me. I also find the process to be such a meditation. It forces you to be completely present and is so relaxing. I find food beautiful and putting it together inspiring in a similar way that I find nature inspiring. There is that perfect imperfection. (Which is why I'm a great cook and NOT a great baker!) With dancing, similarly to cooking, you can only be present right then and there in that very moment. It completely frees me from the noise of my brain and anything other than what's right in front of me. It's so liberating!
What do you love most about designing footwear? I love that what I create gets worn. People literally walk through their lives in my designs. Shoes are fun because they have power to make people feel different ways depending on which they choose. They can make one feel sexy, powerful and present in their lives. It's also really fun that I get to be a cultural detective, studying and researching what people are going to want before they know it themselves. It is exciting to seek out clues and decipher trends.
What inspires you? I'm inspired by music. I'm inspired by the irregular beauty of nature. I'm inspired by problem solving how to create beauty while moving at the speed of light in this crazy busy city, whether it's my outfit, a dinner party, or breakfast for my husband. It can all be beautiful. It's a job to stay present and calm while keeping up with everything and a challenge I enjoy. It's really the choices we make, big and small that define us and create the masterpiece of our lives. Wow that was corny... But I really believe that.
Do you have a simple cooking or baking tip you can share with us? When I want to make something for the first time, I tend to compare a handful of recipes, study its reviews and then create my own version of it. Also, I love to study menus for flavor combinations and then improvise with them in my kitchen! For everyday cooking, when I get sick of the most recent regular dishes, I ask my cooking enthusiast friends what they've been making and add to my collection.
By Miranda Selwyn Bishop
The most important dish for Chanukah are the Potato Latkes, fried potato pancakes which are labored over and absolutely delicious. The food for Chanukah is mostly deep fried, which celebrates the miracle of a small quantity of oil lasting eight days which allowed a victory for the Jews over a tyrant king and the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem.
The recipe for Potato Latkes in my family is one that has been passed down on scraps of paper, recited over the phone and scribbled down on Post-it Notes year after year. It's so nondescript (see below), I panicked just before the the first time I made them because I was sure I'd screw them up. In the end, just like any other deep fried potato, they're easy but fast paced to make and always a crowd pleaser.
I don't know where our family recipe originated, although it seems everyone's came from their grandmother and both sides of my family tout similar versions. I like to think our recipe is that of my Great Grandmother, Celia, who we affectionately called Grandma Chippie.
Chippie was the cook at the Brooklyn restaurant she and my Great Grandfather's owned. She was famous for her cooking and sassy personality. Just to give you a glimpse of her sparkle, my favorite picture of her was in a red convertible in her mid-90s. That woman knew how to live, enjoyed eating, and made everyone laugh—some key characteristics of a great chef and entertainer. She is missed and her spirit of cooking, sassiness and humor lives on in our family.
There has been much debate about a few aspects of these now famous Latkes.
Firstly, hand grate vs. food processor.
Funny memories of my entire family grating and peeling potatoes at my very first shot at hosting Chanukah makes me both ashamed as a hostess (!!!) and makes me land very decisively on the food processor side of this debate. Although my mother says it RUINS them, I disagree! I think hand grating them ruins the party since everyone has to laboriously grate and peel since you can't really do it long ahead of time.
Secondly, make ahead vs. cook them with a house full of guests, doling them out as they're done.
Definitely eat as they're ready! So crispy and delicious! Another fun memory of my best friend and I standing before massive pans of oil as 20 people were joyfully eating in the dining room as they came out. I had to ice skate on dish towels later that night to lap up some of the oil on the floor.
And lastly, sweet vs. savory toppings.
I say let them eat cake! (and do both...). My mom makes her famous fresh applesauce to be eaten with sour cream, but I also include my cousin's savory gourmet version of salmon roe to be eaten with creme fraiche. Savory, salty, and satisfies the gourmand. Either way, they are over-the-top delicious.
The one thing that is never debated in the Selwyn family is the tradition of using brown paper grocery bags to line the counter tops. It’s our trademark. We place our Latkes fresh out of the pan on them to soak up the oil. It's such a pleasant sight!
Our Chanukah dinner also includes Brisket (my fav recipe can be found on Food52), some deep green vegetable of choice and of course, my cousin always brings jelly donuts, an integral part of celebrating Chanukah, being that they are deep fried.
As for the actual recipe, it's this simple. This is exactly what my Mom texted me (minus the asterisk parentheticals) when I asked her to remind me of the recipe. No instructions. No tips. No indications of how many this serves. Thank you Google for clearing some of that up.
RECIPE FOR MIRANDA SELWYN BISHOP’S POTATO LATKES
3 TB flour
3 TB Panko (*Most people use breadcrumbs; we think Panko makes them more crispy.)
2 tsps baking powder
salt & pepper to taste (*Some recipes call for 3 1/2 tsp kosher salt, 1/4 tsp black pepper.)
This makes around 2 dozen. I make about 3-4 per person, extra if we want leftovers to toast the next day.
As you can see this is BARE BONES, so this is how I break it down:
Peel the potatoes. Grate them in the food processor (or hand grate if you're only making for a handful of people).
Now this next step is KEY! Put the grated potatoes in dish towels and literally squeeze out ALL of the liquid. This is IMPERATIVE to get crispy Latkes.
Onions must be finely chopped. It literally melts in when fried and is top notch. DO NOT USE SWEET ONIONS!
Mix all ingredients except the potatoes in a large bowl. Whisk together. Add potatoes.
The mix cannot be too dry, too liquidy. You are going for a lightly coated mixture. If you need more liquid add a beaten egg.
Heat neutral cooking oil of your choice that has a high smoke point. You can also use Schmaltz (i.e., chicken fat), which most Jews swear by, but I never have time for it and our Latkes are just as good. Make sure oil or Schmaltz is about 1/8" full in pan and starting to crackle before putting potato mixture in.
Place large spoonfuls of the potato mixture in pan. (The first one ALWAYS burns! Don't be hard on yourself!) You can estimate about 2-3 minutes per side, but watch them, you'll know.
If liquid pools up in the bowl as go about your cooking, just stir it back in. Resist the urge to pour it out.
As ready, place them on paper bags to absorb oil. Salt them again lightly! (I make mixture slightly less salty than I'd like at the end to accommodate this step.)
All in all, it's a super fun night of rowdy, family involvement that never disappoints! It's a full on contact sport to cook these, so have EVERYTHING ready before cooking them. Your table must be set. Your other dishes prepped ahead. Your toppings already out on the buffet. And assign someone to host and get people drinks and take their coats because you'll be cooking until halfway through dinner!
OK, it’s Gigi again. I made Miranda’s Potato Latkes and they are fabulous. I documented my cooking process, following her instructions. Check it out! xoxo Happy cooking and Happy Hanukkah!