Bored with child-centric Hanukkah celebrations, Modern Reston co-founder Michelle Schoening and her husband Charlie decided to kick things up a notch this year. With a nod to Michelle’s Russian Jewish heritage and their collective love of swanky cocktail parties, a vodka bar sounded like a no-brainer. After all, it rhymes AND what better way to soak up a strong drink than with a greasy potato latke!
For the self-serve open bar, the couple created a menu and provided all of the makings for easy to mix (but out of the ordinary) vodka cocktails. An array of glassware — from vintage coupes to rocks glasses — was also available for each drink.
Guests were encouraged to bring their favorite vodkas to share. Some made special concoctions of mango and lemongrass while others opted to bring small-batch and hard-to-find flavored vodkas.
The latke bar, not to be over-shadowed by the vodka bar, consisted of two types of latkes and a wide array of toppings. Charlie, the resident latke maker, turned out appetizer-sized potato pancakes by the dozens that were paired with crème fraîche, caviar and a selection of smoked and pickled fish. He also drew upon his time spent growing up in California and New Mexico with a batch of jalapeño and cilantro latkes that were served with chipotle lime sour cream and cranberry salsa. (Scroll down for recipes.)
Charlie recommends using Yukon Gold potatoes for latkes because there is no need to peel them which will save you a ton of time. Also, latkes can be made days in advance, frozen and then re-heated in the oven right before serving.
Because the Schoenings are a blended family and celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas, their decorations reflect both holidays. Menorah and dreidel ornaments are scattered around the tree and Michelle chose a subtle peacock feather theme to incorporate the blue for Hanukkah. “I didn’t want to be heavy-handed with the hanukkah decorations because not all of our guests are Jewish. I wanted to keep things elegant and a bit unexpected,” mentions Michelle.
The couple also consulted with local event planner Rachael Fineberg of Mango Productions for advice while setting up for the party. “Rachael had great ideas. She suggested keeping the bar and the food on different levels so that people could move between the two to avoid a bottleneck situation. She also recommended using special pens for guests to write their names on their drinks so that we wouldn’t be in the kitchen washing glassware all night. Small things, like clearing out the foyer closet for coats and purses also made a huge difference,” says Michelle. “I will definitely be using Rachael for all of our parties in the future!”
We hope more people are compelled to get creative with their Hanukkah celebrations. It’s a great way to include all of your friends, not just the Jewish ones.
JALAPEÑO LATKES WITH CHIPOTLE SOUR CREAM / Serves 6
For the chipotle sour cream (optional)
6 tablespoons sour cream
1 tablespoon chopped chipotle chile in adobo sauce, or less to taste
3/4 teaspoon grated lime zest, preferably organic
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lime juice
Salt, to taste
For the latkes
6 cups (about 1 1/2 pounds) Yukon Gold potatoes (no need to peel Yukon Gold potatoes)
1 cup (1 medium) grated onion
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons seeded and finely chopped jalapeño pepper
1/4 to 1 teaspoon ground cumin (optional)
3/4 to 1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1 large egg
4 tablespoons olive oil
Make the chipotle sour cream
1. Combine the sour cream, chipotle, lime zest and juice, and salt in a small bowl and stir well. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Make the latkes
2. Combine the potato and onion in a colander, place it in the sink, and, if time permits, let drain for 30 minutes, occasionally pressing down on the mixture with the back of a spoon. Squeeze the potato and onion mixture to remove any excess moisture and then pat it dry with paper towels.
3. Dump the dry potato and onion mixture into a large bowl, add the flour, and toss to combine. Add the cilantro, jalapeño, cumin (if using), salt, and egg and mix well.
4. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons oil and swirl to coat. Spoon a heaping 1/4 cup potato mixture loosely into a dry measuring cup. Plop the mixture into the skillet and flatten it slightly with the back of a spatula. Repeat to form 6 latkes (or however many will fit comfortably in the skillet). Fry the latkes, flipping once, until golden brown, 3 1/2 to 7 minutes per side, depending on how brown and crisp you like the outside of your latkes. Remove the latkes from the skillet. Repeat with the remaining oil and potato mixture. Sprinkle with salt to taste and serve warm with the chipotle sour cream, if using.
Serve with cranberry relish, if desired.
Follow the recipe above and omit the cilantro, jalapeño and cumin. Serve with apple sauce, creme fraiche, caviar, and a variety of smoked fish.