12/04/2009 11:25 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Plan to Entertain This Holiday Season

If you are a regular here, you may know that I have a mission to increase home entertaining nationally by 10%. Really.

If you are new to my blog, now you know about my mission. Cynics kid me about the 10%. They ask, "Why 10%?" or, with a touch of sarcasm, "How will you know you have accomplished your mission?"

My response is that I believe in setting expansive goals. President Obama would call them audacious. Ten percent is a nice round number and actually not so difficult to accomplish. If you normally entertain friends and family in your home once a year and I encourage and inspire you to do it twice a year, that's a 100% increase in your home entertaining. So, help out! Entertain at home.

A 3 Step Recipe for Holiday Party Success:
1. Invite people you love and enjoy being with (Forget pay back and obligation).

2. Think about having The Good Enough Holiday Party. Don't set the bar unrealistically high for yourself. Over-reaching rarely has a happy ending. Either you end up saying, "No, that's too hard" and skip home entertaining altogether. Or, you try something that's way beyond your resources -- psychic, time and/or money -- and at your party's end you are resentful and swear off future entertaining at home.

3. Whatever you do, spend the upfront time to plan and spread out your tasks over at least one week so you get your one relaxed hour before guests arrive. Plan to entertain this holiday season. Better. Easier.

Hanukkah's Coming
Hanukkah begins Friday evening, December 11th and runs through Saturday evening, December 19th. That gives you two weekend windows to entertain friends and family with latkes. Plan ahead! If you make applesauce this weekend it will hold in your refrigerator up through that last candle in the menorah. Visit your local farm stand or farmer's market if you can for a mix of fresh sweet and tart apples for your applesauce. (The Reading Terminal in Philadelphia-- where I am spending weekends with At Home -- is loaded with varieties of local apples. Shop, visit and get a signed book...or two or three.) Latkes may be made in advance and frozen.

Traditional Potato Latkes & Applesauce
from At Home by Steve Poses
It's a shame that potato pancakes tend to be made only for Hanukkah, the Jewish holiday that comes in December. The Hanukkah story celebrates the miracle of oil--there was reportedly just enough to burn one day in the temple, but it lasted for eight days. The fact that potato pancakes require prodigious amounts of oil to fry is surely a coincidence. The key to making them crispy is to squeeze out excess water from the grated onion and potato. Make the applesauce first so it's ready for your hot latkes. The recipe will yield more than you will likely need for the latkes.

do ahead Applesauce may be made up to two weeks ahead and stored in the refrigerator. Latkes may be made up to three days ahead and stored, tightly wrapped, in the refrigerator or frozen up to a month. Reheat in a 350° oven for 7-10 minutes, turning them over midway through.

1 cup apple cider
2 cinnamon sticks
21⁄2 pounds apples (for best results, use a mix of sweet and tart)
sugar to taste

1 pound onion, peeled
11⁄2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 teaspoon pepper
vegetable oil

1. Make the applesauce: In a large pot, add apple cider and cinnamon sticks and simmer slowly for 10 minutes, taking care not to boil the cider away.

2. Leaving skin on, core apples and cut them into chunks.

3. Add apples and sugar to pot. Increase heat to high and cover. After about 5 minutes, stir apples to move the top apples down into the liquid. Continue cooking until apples are soft and falling apart, about 10-15 minutes more.

4. Remove cinnamon sticks and reserve. Using a food mill or food processor, puree apples to desired texture. Add back cinnamon sticks to sauce. Chill. (Just be sure to remove cinnamon sticks before serving.)

5. Make the latkes: On the largest holes of a box grater, grate onion and potatoes. The large-holed grating disk on the food processor does a fine job too. Turn the mixture onto several layers of cheesecloth or an open kitchen towel. Gather the corners and squeeze the water from the mixture.

6. Combine eggs, flour, salt and pepper in large bowl. Add onions and potatoes and mix well.

7. Preheat oven to 200°. Line a baking sheet with two layers of paper towels and have another unlined baking sheet ready. Heat 1⁄2 cup oil in a sauté pan over moderately high heat until very hot but not smoking. Fill a 1⁄3 cup measure with the potato mixture. Drop it into the sauté pan and push it down with the flat side of the measuring cup so you have a pancake about 3 inches in diameter and 1⁄4-inch thick. Cook pancakes until brown and crisp on one side, about 2-3 minutes, and flip, taking care not to splatter the oil. Continue cooking for 1-2 minutes more. Add more oil as needed, making sure to get the oil hot before adding the pancake mixture. Adjust heat as needed so that the pancakes brown as they cook through without burning. As you get to the bottom of the mix it will be watery, so be sure to give it a stir. Transfer cooked pancakes to the prepared baking sheet to drain. Pat the top of the pancakes with another double layer of paper towels. Cook remaining batter in batches until all the pancakes are cooked, transferring cooked and drained pancakes to the unlined baking sheet.

8. Keep them warm in the oven until ready to serve. Serve with applesauce and/or sour cream.
yields 2 quarts applesauce and 1 dozen 3-inch pancakes

*Additional note about making latkes in advance: Make sure latkes get cooked through if you are making your latkes in advance. Uncooked potato will discolor. To make sure latkes are cooked through, make sure you cook over moderate heat so that the inside gets cooked before the outside gets over-cooked.