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GREAT HOME COOKS

Still in the Kitchen

December 05, 1996|MARGARET SHERIDAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When you have a reputation as a great cook, friends and relatives don't let you forget it. Especially around Hanukkah.

Several years ago, Roz Cooper hosted 30 staff members of the Simon Wiesenthal Center--where her husband, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, is associate dean--for a Hanukkah buffet in their home. "They're still talking about it," she says.

Before that, she spent five years as a radio food personality; "Roz's Kitchen" was the cooking segment of the nationally syndicated interview program "Page One" (then locally produced and aired on KGIL, now produced in Washington). Listeners loved it--especially, of course, her relatives in Chicago, Florida and New York. Although she bowed out more than seven years ago, requests for her holiday recipes still trickle in.

Good cooking runs in the family. Her mother, grandmother and three aunts are fabulous cooks. "My grandmother came from Austria and never used recipes," she says. "She was one of those a-pinch-of-this, pinch-of-that cooks." Cooper's three daughters still rate their grandmother's chocolate chip cookies ("real jawbreakers") as their all-time favorites.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday December 12, 1996 Home Edition Food Part H Page 2 Food Desk 1 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
In the Hanukkah Great Home Cooks profile of Roz Cooper ("Still in the Kitchen," Dec. 5), it was incorrectly reported that the radio program, Page One, was produced in Washington, D.C. It is produced in Los Angeles at the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

But these days the labor-intensive ways of making traditional holiday dishes like latkes and sufganiyot (Israeli doughnuts) have little room in Cooper's lifestyle. Her job as a special education teacher and the demands of her family caused her to simplify her hand-me-down recipes over the years. And a concern for more healthful eating conflicts with tradition.

"The trouble with Hanukkah is many dishes are fried," she says. "Oil is a major ingredient in cooking and the holiday's symbolism."

One of the standard holiday dishes is, of course, latkes, potato pancakes served with condiments like applesauce and sour cream. For the latter, Cooper substitutes low-fat yogurt. She also makes latkes out of cottage cheese instead of potatoes.

In order to further cut the amount of oil in the meal, Cooper bakes latkes on a baking sheet sprayed with vegetable oil. Although the baked latke is less crisp than the fried variety, she claims, "They don't sit in the stomach like bricks."

Much of the Hanukkah menu is dictated by family tradition. For the main course, she serves broiled fish, but roasted chicken, brisket and stuffed game hen are also appropriate. Broccoli salad, a recipe from her cousin, has a puckery edge (from wine vinegar) and goes well with chicken or meat.

Besides fruit salad for dessert, there are other sweets, including a basic sugar cookie that is formed with special cookie cutters in the shapes of the Star of David, a menorah and a dreidel.

Cooper has two recipes for the Israeli jelly doughnut, sufganiyot, which is sugared rather than glazed. The recipe she chooses depends on how busy she is. The yeast recipe requires two rising periods of about an hour each. The other uses baking powder instead of yeast. Neither is low-fat.

The trade-off of using baking powder instead of yeast, she says, is texture: "The yeast doughnut is lighter and has a nice flavor." She uses a syringe to fill the doughnut with jelly.

Kosher oil is a staple. She usually uses canola oil rather than olive oil because of its neutral flavor and health benefits.

In the Hanukkah menu, dairy products are a common theme. The custom goes back to the story of Judith, a Jewish heroine who helped save the Jews. The beautiful widow was supposed to have dinner with the enemy, in this case the Assyrian general who intended to destroy her town and people. The meal served was rich in dairy products, especially cheese. Some believe that dairy promotes thirst and sleepiness. In order to quench the officer's thirst, she brought on the wine. The effect worked: The guest fell into a drunken slumber, and the hostess then beheaded him. When his soldiers learned of his fate, they fled in fear.

Like Judith, Cooper has a ploy for getting extra pairs of hands in the kitchen.

Of Cooper's three daughters, the middle one, Margalit, 17, is the avid cook, the one who'll try anything. She'll help prepare this year's Hanukkah buffet for 12.

"Making Hanukkah cookies is a party in itself," she says. "Everyone likes to help cut the dough with the special cutters, then they stand around and wait for them to come out of the oven.

"Of course, we end up eating too many."

POTATO LATKES

4 baking potatoes, peeled

1 onion

2 eggs

1/3 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

Nonstick cooking spray

Grate peeled potatoes and onion by hand or with food processor. Combine grated potatoes in bowl with eggs, flour, baking powder and salt. Stir until mixture is smooth.

Spray 2 baking sheets with nonstick cooking spray. Drop batter by 1/4 cups onto prepared sheets. Shape with back of spoon to make sure latkes are flat. Bake at 425 degrees 15 minutes. Flip and continue baking until latkes are browned on both sides, about 10 more minutes.

Note: These pancakes may be frozen. Reheat by baking them on an ungreased baking sheet at 450 degrees until crisp and hot, 7 to 8 minutes.

Makes 18 pancakes.

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