Potatoes perfect for Thanksgivukkah meal
At Backyard, Kedan and his wife, Marianna Gardenhire, source sustainable ingredients from local orchards, farms, ranchers and fishermen. Their California cuisine recently snagged them a Bib Gourmand award from Michelin, which grants the honor to restaurants that offer two good dishes and a glass of wine for $40 or less.
For the Hanukkah dinner, Kedan will serve three kinds of potato latkes — made from Yukon gold, Purple Majesty and russet potatoes — that he sources from local farms such as First Light of Valley Ford and Armstrong Valley of Guerneville.
Since Hanukkah commemorates the story of an oil-based miracle, the foods most closely connected with the holiday, such as latkes, are typically fried in oil.
The Hanukkah miracle, according to legend, was two-fold. About 2,100 years ago, a small, outnumbered Jewish army expelled the Greek occupiers from the Holy Land. There was only enough oil to light the temple's menorah for one day, but somehow the light lasted for eight days and nights.
During Hanukkah, Jewish families mark this legend by lighting a candle on a nine-branch menorah each night, singing songs and playing dreidel, a spinning top game.
"It's a positive holiday," Kedan said. "Even when you think you're down on your luck, guess what? The oil is going to last, and you're going to be all right."
Both Kedan and Silvers said they have fond memories of the Hanukkah holiday from when they were growing up.
"My mom would come to school and cook latkes for the class," said Kedan, who grew up in Connecticut. "She makes the best kugel I've ever had ... and an unbelievable brisket."
Silvers, who grew up in Berkeley, recalls making latkes with his mom and sister in an electric frying pan.
"We would experiment with zucchini and sweet potatoes," he said. "The whole house smelled delicious."
For latkes, Kedan prefers to use a box grater to grate the onions and potatoes by hand.
"The secret is using good potatoes," he said. "You want them starchy enough to hold together with the flour, eggs and seasoning."
After he grates his potatoes and onions, Silvers runs hot water over them to remove some of the starch.
At Backyard, the latkes will be served family-style, with different toppings, such as applesauce and creme fraiche, gravlax and dill.
For the soup, there will be an army of light matzo balls. Both Kedan and Silvers prefer "floaters," the lighter balls that float on top of the soup rather than sinking to the bottom.
"I use schmaltz (rendered chicken fat) instead of oil," Silvers said. "I also use the boxed mix, only with soda water instead of regular water."
As the main entree, Kedan will serve a hearty braised beef brisket, with sides of roasted root vegetables and kugel, a pudding-like dish made with noodles, eggs and cottage cheese. Vegetarians can choose from a separate menu.
Gardenhire, who is Greek rather than Jewish, enjoys baking Hanukkah cookies for the dinner, including the rustic rugelach, stuffed with nuts, dried fruit and other Mediterranean treats.
"I love the tradition and the food that's associated with it," she said of the holiday. "It's about gratefulness and being blessed to have this oil."
Backyard is grateful to be celebrating its first anniversary this month, another miracle of sorts for the fledgling restaurant.