At The Culinary Institute of America, we are firm believers that fresh food is the best food. That's why the storeroom at our Hyde Park, New York, campus sends out tons of fresh fruits, vegetables, and proteins to all of our kitchen classrooms every day. We like teaching students to use seasonal, fresh ingredients so that the plates they create are flavorful and nourishing.
But as the holidays creep up around us, freshly prepared food becomes less of a rule and more of a fantasy. Thoughtful, time-consuming dinners are the first thing to go when time is at a premium, and we find ourselves leaning on takeout and convenience foods. And that's just leading up to the holidays, when we're dodging cocktail parties and recitals. What about those dinners we're hosting?
The best thing you can do for yourself is to start planning your holiday menu early, making sure it includes plenty of make-ahead items. Have a week of dinners to use up everything in your freezer, then start loading it up with soups, stocks, appetizers, and pies. When the time comes, you can pull things out to defrost, and then you're just doing a lot of reheating and a little bit of day-of assembly.
By now, you're probably mentally going down your list trying to decide what you can start knocking out. But you might not have all the information you need, so check out this recipe for Parsnip-Potato Latkes served with rhubarb jam before you make any decisions.
A perfect twist on the Hanukkah favorites, these latkes will be a hit on your dinner table or as a small bite at a cocktail party (make them mini). Though we don't usually think of fried foods as a good make-ahead item, they reheat really well. Cook the latkes all the way, then freeze in one layer on a baking sheet. Once they're frozen, you can transfer them to a zip-top bag. On the day of, bake the latkes from frozen in a hot oven, about 400 degrees, until they're nice and crispy again.
Though we love the traditional combination of potato pancake and applesauce, we experimented with some new flavors, and this one stood out. CIA chef Bruce Mattel says, "The parsnips add a touch of sweetness and complexity that sets these apart from the typical latke." If you don't use parsnips much, this is a great place to start. You can use them just like a carrot, but they have a unique peppery flavor that stands out against the potato.
We're crazy about the pairing with tart rhubarb, cooked with sugar, orange juice, and rosemary until it is thick and jammy. We took a few pieces out for garnish before it got too soft, but you can skip that step to keep it simple. You can freeze the cooked rhubarb in a small container or zip-top bag, and then just defrost it in the refrigerator the day before you use it. Then reheat it if you'd like, or serve it at room temperature.
Fall and winter aren't rhubarb seasons, but you may be able to find some at your local grocery store. If not, you can use frozen, or substitute pear, quince, or cranberries.
We like the latkes topped with sour cream and a little bit of caviar, too. If you'll be serving them for Hanukkah, Chef Mattel gave us the scoop on Brooklyn-based Black Diamond caviar, made from a non-endangered kosher fish. If your latkes don't make it all the way to the holiday, though, we won't blame you. They also make the perfect emergency weeknight dinner -- way better than takeout!
• This article was provided to The Associated Press by The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York.