Why I Cook: Chanie Apfelbaum’s Hanukkah Traditions

The Busy in Brooklyn blogger uses inspiration from childhood for her modern Jewish recipes (which her kids love!) including latke funnel cakes.

courtesy Chanie Apfelbaum

This Brooklyn-based food blogger lives just blocks from her childhood home, where she first learned to cook. Chanie Apfelbaum carries on the tradition by creating innovative yet approachable recipes of her own, many of which feature traditional Jewish elements. Old school meets trendy in the tastiest way at her website, busyinbrooklyn.com.

Taste of Home: Where are you from, and who or what inspired you to get started in the kitchen?

Chanie Apfelbaum: I was born and raised in Brooklyn (hence the blog name!) and still live just a few short blocks from my childhood home. Growing up in a Hasidic family, so many of our traditions revolved around food—weekly Shabbat dinners, Jewish holidays and celebrations—so learning my way around the kitchen was almost a rite of passage into starting a family.

TOH: How has your background in web design helped you as a food blogger? Did you build your blog from the ground up?

CA: Web design really gave me a foundation for food styling and photography because I learned to work with different layouts and compositions, which comes in handy when photographing recipes like Funfetti Krembo (below). I built Busy in Brooklyn back in 2011 and never looked back!

KremboCourtesy Chanie Apfelbaum

TOH: You have five adorable children. Do they ever help out in the kitchen and if so, how?

CA: One of my girls loves to help out in the kitchen and she has developed an impressive palate for a 12-year-old! She helps me with food prep, recipe development and cleanup, and I really value her feedback. I always say that kids are the best recipe testers because they’ll tell you the truth!

TOH: Kosher dietary standards don’t mix dairy and meat. What substitutes do you use in classic meat-and-dairy dishes, like cheeseburgers or tacos?

CA: I find that it’s harder to replace dairy in recipes (for that Insta-worthy #cheesepull!), so I prefer to use vegan meat, and with the new plant-based beef on the market, keeping kosher has never been easier.

TOH: What is your favorite Hanukkah tradition? How have you modernized traditional Hanukkah dishes?

CA: I was born on the fifth night of Hanukkah so I give myself a free pass to eat all the latkes, jelly doughnuts and chocolate gelt that I want. Best birthday week ever! I love sitting around the Hanukkah menorah with my kids, playing dreidel and eating hot latkes straight from the frying pan. With eight days of Hanukkah, there’s plenty of time to experiment with different latke flavors, and my Falatkes (falafel-latke hybrid) is one of my favorites to date.

TOH: What ingredients do you always have on hand?

CA: Diamond Crystal kosher salt, Zoe extra virgin olive oil, Har Bracha tahini, Pereg za’atar, Koko Kosher Korean gochujang and Huy Fong Sriracha. Can you tell that Middle Eastern and Asian foods are my go-to’s?

(Try za’atar in everything from dry rubs to homemade hummus.)

TOH: What is your favorite part about running your own food blog?

CA: The opportunity to connect with people from all over the world, from all different walks of life.

TOH: What advice would you give to a new food blogger?

CA: Be consistent, up your photography game (to make photos like this Rosewater Creme Brulee pop!) and give people what they want—recipes that are innovative yet approachable.

Rose Creme BruleeCourtesy Chanie Apfelbaum

TOH: What is your favorite recipe you’ve ever made? Which recipe does your family always crave?

CA: That’s like asking me to pick my favorite child—it’s impossible! With five kids of equally discerning palates, our favorite dinners are the BYOB (build your own bowl!) varieties, so everyone gets to choose what they like. I set up a station with a specific theme (such as falafel, shawarma, sushi, fajitas, tacos or ramen) that includes an assortment of fillings and toppings, and the kids love to build their own bowls. It makes them feel like they’re in control so they are more likely to eat what they make!

(Want to give the kids even more control? Pick from these easy recipes kids can make themselves.)

TOH: What’s your favorite thing about cooking? The “why” of why you cook!

CA: I want to bring the love back into the kitchen. I don’t think cooking should be a chore, but rather an expression of your creative spirit. There really is nothing greater than bringing people around the table, and food has that power, so let’s get cooking!

Potato Latke Funnel CakesCourtesy Chanie Apfelbaum

Chanie’s Potato Latke Funnel Cakes

Try one of Chanie’s favorite Hanukkah dishes that’s a twist on potato latkes. The recipe makes 15 cakes.

Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 cups sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon plus 2 tablespoons ranch dressing mix, divided
  • 2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 cup 2% milk, optional
  • Parmesan cheese, optional

Directions

Step 1: Prepare the dip

Stir together sour cream and 1 tablespoon ranch dressing mix. Refrigerate, covered, until serving.

Step 2: Cook the potatoes

Place the potatoes in a large saucepan; add water to cover. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cook, uncovered, until just tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain the potatoes; return to pan and stir over low heat 1 minute to dry.

Step 3: Make the batter

Mash the potatoes. Stir in flour, egg, salt, pepper, 2 tablespoons ranch dressing mix and, if desired, milk, until smooth.

Step 4: Fry the funnel cakes

In a deep cast-iron or electric skillet, heat canola oil to 350ºF. Transfer potato mixture to a pastry bag with round pastry tip. Pipe batter in a spiral motion. Fry until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes on each side. Drain on paper towels.

Step 5: Serve

Sprinkle the potato latke funnel cakes with Parmesan cheese if desired. Serve them warm with the dip.

Get to know Chanie even better! Follow her on Instagram @busyinbrooklyn or visit busyinbrooklyn.com.

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Laurie Dixon
Having a passion for writing her whole life, Laurie joined the Taste of Home team to bring together her two favorite things—creative writing and food. She spends most of her time playing with her dog, drafting up short stories and, of course, trying out new recipes.