And…April is in the books! Holy crap, y’all! We’re one third finished with this whole Cook the Books thing. Can you believe it? Personally, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve had a few good takeaways from every cookbook we’ve focused on so far. Isn’t that cool?
I chose this month’s cookbook, The Mile End Cookbook, because I’ve always loved deli food, I wanted to learn more about Jewish cooking, and I like a challenge. I perused this book as Meg and I were choosing the year’s books, and I saw that it contained some projects. I’m into projects. Projects are where you can learn new techniques, new ingredients, and stretch your abilities. Well, mission accomplished this month. The Mile End Cookbook has smoked and roasted meats, pickles, breadmaking, desserts, and recipes for some foods that I’m sure many of you have never tasted, myself included. It was a fun month!
We had a fun group cooking along this month too! I had a blast reading y’alls entries. And I saw a few themes emerge. A lot of you mentioned in your entries that you liked the stories told by Noah and Rae in this book. And moreover, the book seem to inspire some nostalgia and reflection by lot of you about your own food traditions and heritages. I think a cookbook that can do that is a success.
The participating bloggers covered a lot of territory in this book as well. Pickles to meat to fish to bread to desserts. Nice work everyone!
Check out what your online pals were up to this month!
Janet over at Jam, Chutneys and Other Misadventures and Sarah at Eat Locally, Blog Globally got together and cooked up a storm! They made Challah, Cinnamon Rolls, Pickled Beets, Pickled Red Onions and Horseradish. Count Janet as one of this month’s participants who loved the cinnamon rolls. Man, I gotta makes those!
And Sarah gives us the perspective of someone who grew up in Montreal; who ate at the places that Noah and Rae mention. Sarah really liked the book, and I think that you, like me, will enjoy her beautiful walk down memory lane of her childhood. Plus she makes fun references to classic films of the 1970s and to Goldilocks! Luckily, Janet and Sarah ended up making a batch of challah bread that was just right for their cinnamon rolls. Nice work, you two! Thanks for sharing your memories!
Karen at 200 Birdies tells us in her lovely entry about all she made as well. She tells us how she had received the book for Christmas and loved it. She cooked from her pantry and made Pickled Beets. She marveled at Noah and Rae’s ambitious inventions of new traditions and made Lox and Latkes and turned them into the Mont Royal. And she tells us how the book triggered her nostalgia, and makes Beef on Weck, reflecting on her youth in Western New York. Karen also provides a few lessons on the use of salt. A lot of this month’s participants noted the over-saltiness of many of the recipes. Check out Karen’s post for more about the difference a few grains of salt can make. And, Karen, seriously…wasn’t that the beef stock you’ve ever had? For realsies. I also felt that something Karen said captured a real theme in the book, that the recipes take many steps to get to simple bliss. Agreed!
Angela at Tea Time Adventures made Hamantaschen. Angela made all three kinds of hamantaschen, and took much better pictures of them than I did! Nice folding technique!
Carrie at Fresh From Oregon used local ingredients from Portland area farmer’s markets and made Tri-Color Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting, Challah that was also turned into french toast, and Lemon Chili Pickled Asparagus. Carrie was ambitious, and she takes some lovely photographs, doesn’t she? Hey Carrie, I was just at the Farmer’s Market at Portland State University too! One of my absolute favorite markets in the country! Carrie used local ingredients in all of these dishes, including local Oregon hazelnuts in her carrot cake and french toast, and local asparagus for the pickled asparagus. Man, weren’t those asparagus pickles the bomb? If you haven’t made these, now’s the time! Asparagus is here! Oh, and Carrie suggests using these pickled beauties in Russian dressing and tartar sauce. Duly noted, Carrie!
Sarah at Cook Can Read, a newbie to Jewish cooking, made (and loved!) the Cheesecake. Sarah talks about her love of cheesecake emerging at an early age. And hey, it seems that the cheesecake recipe in The Mile End Cookbook might be going on the shelf right next to her mom’s legendary cheesecake! Success! And Sarah, take it from a fellow salt tooth (great term, btw!), I agree…this puppy was salty! But the fruit really tempered the salt in my opinion, and the options for fruit toppings as the next several months come about will be delicious and endless. Sweet! And Sarah also improvised and used a regular old 9″ pan for the cake.
Oh, and we have a new participant this month, Kristiann from My KZ Life. Welcome Kristiann! Kristiann made Beef on Weck. Hey Kristiann, we had a lot of the same experiences here with the beef on weck! We both skipped the caraway seeds, couldn’t believe how good and easy the roast beef was, and had a hard time shaping those damn kaiser rolls. But, wow, your sandwich looks great! I’m jealous of that deli slicer; your slices look so nice and uniform!
Aimee at Homemade Trade makes us jealous by telling us how she squeezed in making Mish Mash and Maple Baked Beans before she jetted off to vacay in Mexico. Color me jealous! I agree, Aimee! Salami and eggs sound like a match made in heaven. And nice work cleaning out your pantry and fridge before your vacation. Hope you had fun!
And, yes! Someone else smoked meat besides me! Cynthia at Mother’s Kitchen made Smoked Meat (as well as what looks like Kaiser Rolls and Cole Slaw). Hey, Cynthia:
Cynthia didn’t get to it yet on her blog, but I have it on good authority that her smoked meat turned out great. Nice work Cynthia! Think you’ll try the salami? I have it on my summer to-do list.
Then there was my good ol’ partner in crime, Meg over at Grow and Resist. Meg made a lot! Get ready for this. She made Pickled Beets, Fennel, Red Onions, Eggs, and Asparagus, and Preserved Lemons. She made Romanian Steak with Spring Onions and Scallion Sauce, and Braised Brisket with Red Wine and Prunes. She made Potato Salad, Kasha Varnishkes and Maple Baked Beans. And she made Rye Bread, Honey Cake, Cinnamon Buns, and Cheesecake. Wow, nice work Meg! You can read about her adventures making the above here, here, and her review of the overall book here. Meg, for all you made this month, you get this. Go Meg!
And then there was me. Lookit what I made!
- Pickled Red Onions! Lemon Chile Pickled Asparagus! Pickled Mushrooms! Pickled Fennel! Pickled Horseradish!
- Beef Stock and Beef Jus! And Kaiser/Weck Rolls!
- Beef on Weck!
Looking back, I liked everything I made. And I learned a lot. I learned how to make the best beef stock I’ve ever had. I learned to make and shape kaiser rolls. I learned that lemon and chilies in pickled asparagus is awesome. I learned a new way to pickle mushrooms that will knock socks off on salads, me thinks. I learned that the more chives in your latke batter, the better. I learned that pickled fennel is a thing, and that thing is amazing. I learned from everyone who touched this book that I need to make the Cinnamon Buns, and I need to make them now. And holy shit, I learned how to smoke meat! Finally! After harping on the fact that I wanted to learn how to do it for years! Success!
OK, so I picked this book, so now I gotta tell you what I thought of it. You know how I’ve been doing this. I’ve been evaluating this year’s books on five criteria: layout, aesthetics, ingredients/supplies, additional information provided, and the recipes themselves. Here goes!
I like the layout of The Mile End Cookbook. The book starts with a nice introduction to both the authors and to Jewish deli. Both Noah and Rae take a turn giving an introduction. Noah talks about both his time suffering through law school in Brooklyn, all the while smoking brisket on his roof. He talks about missing Montreal and its Jewish deli institutions. He talks about his journey to mastering smoked meat. He talks about getting the courage to leave law school and sign a lease on a tiny storefront and the origins of the Mile End Deli. He talks about what he thinks about authenticity when it comes to Jewish food. And he talks about his Nana Lee. Rae talks more about Noah’s family, and his Nana Lee’s epic Friday night dinners. She talks about the institutions of Montreal Jewish cooking: Wilensky’s, Beauty’s, Schwartz’s. She talks about her utter inexperience at food service and her equal excitement when the Deli opened. She talks about loving to hear her customers sharing memories, their food stories, their histories. She talks about the Mile End Deli and the food as a way to connect to their own pasts. Food does that to you. I found their joint introductions to be moving, and a great opening to the cookbook.
The introduction doesn’t stop with stories. Like all good cookbooks we’ve used so far this year, Noah and Rae provide a primer on how to use the book and equipment and ingredients you might need. You also get a how-to on slicing deli meat.
I liked how the book was laid out. After a lengthy introduction that is very much worth the read, the book is divided into two parts. Part one is a section they call “Do It Yourself Delicatessen.” Here, you’ll find the section on traditional deli food: meat and fish, as well as pickles and condiments. The authors make it clear in their intro that the centerpiece of Jewish deli is meat–smoked meat, cured fish, roast beef, corned beef, salami, lox and mackerel. The second section of the book is divided into meals you can make with your deli basics: breakfast/brunch, sandwiches/salads, mains/soups/sides, breads and desserts. This layout makes sense because these recipes often call for the main deli components they teach you to make in the first section.
The aesthetics of this book are top-notch. I mean, have you seen the cover?
The photographs accompanying the recipes are plentiful, and gorgeous. The photos are not just of the recipes, but also of Noah and Rae, their restaurants, and their families and friends. There are also several photo spreads teaching readers techniques such as forming kaiser rolls and shaping hamantaschen. The photos do not accompany every recipe, but I found that they cover most of the recipes in the “To The Table” section, and most of the more time-consuming recipes. Helpful!
And as you can see from our wonderful blogger’s photos this month, the photos in the book look like how the food turned out. Always an added bonus!
As I mentioned, Noah and Rae’s comprehensive introduction tells readers about special equipment they may need. Notice I say “may.” You may have this book and choose not to smoke, but if you want to learn how to smoke, this book offers a good crash course. Full-on professional smokers are mentioned, but they also tell readers how to hack a good smoker out of their regular bbq or gas grills. They mention tools that make smoking easier; and I concur. That digital instant read thermometer is a must have for smoking, yo!
Regarding ingredients, pretty much every recipe in the book can be made from items from a standard grocery or butcher shop. The authors do mention a few things readers might not have in their pantry, and how to acquire them: like pink curing salt and sausage casings. Again, you only need those two specialty items if you intend to smoke meat or make salami. I wanna make salami, so I gotta figure out how to get my hands on some sausage casings. I guess I can’t complain about sausage fests anymore. Hi-oh!
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION PROVIDED
I found that The Mile End Cookbook was a veritable treasure trove of additional interesting information. From the history of Jewish deli as a cuisine, to the up and coming young whippersnappers who are carrying on the traditions, the authors make it clear that this is not just a book of recipes.
The DIY Delicatessen section of the book opens with a section by David Sax, author of Save the Deli. A reader here gets a sense of the history of this cuisine and how Noah and Rae fit into the big picture. Throughout the book, you’ll find inserts on how to care for your knives, and tips on cuts of meat to buy for these kinds of projects from the co-founder of The Meat Hook in Brooklyn. You’ll find stories from titans in the NYC food scene, such as Niki Russ Federman, co-owner of NYC institution Russ & Daughters, and Bob Mc Clure, co-founder of Mc Clure’s Pickles, as well as Pacific Northwest deli master Ken Gordon, owner of Portland’s own Kenny and Zuke’s Deli, as well as Jewish cooking master and cookbook author Joan Nathan.
Plus, as I said, this book is great primer on all things smoked meat. From choosing a smoker and picking out wood chips, to slicing and storing and wrapping and eating what you smoke. Yep, this was just what the doctor ordered for someone who has wanted to smoke for years. That’s me, friends!
So how did everything turn out? Well, I liked almost everything I tried. I definitely concur with many of the bloggers who cooked along this month that the recipes skewed salty. Sometimes, the saltiness worked. I actually thought the salty cheesecake really worked when paired with fruit. But I also agreed that the pickles as written were often aggressively salty, and I too am a salt tooth. So that’s saying something.
The recipes ranged in difficulty as well. Some recipes were doable on a weeknight, but most were more what I consider projects. I like that. Not every cookbook needs to be something you can whip out on a Wednesday. To me, this was more of a book to pique interest. To get you motivated to smoke and see what you can achieve. To get you to try bread making. To get you to be such a pickler that you have jars of brine just sitting on your counter so that you then get to make jokes to all guests that you’re like Howard Hughes up in here, saving your urine. Doesn’t that make you wanna come over to my house? Plus, I found most of the more “difficult” recipes to actually just be very time-consuming in the vein of hurry up and wait.
I think that Karen at 200 Birdies hit it on the head, many of these recipes involved lots of steps to get to something pure and simple and awesome. Hey, you can’t beat that.
And that was Jewish deli food. I think this will be a book I return to, especially this summer. I have plans to try my hand at the beef salami, the lox, the cinnamon rolls. And I will continue seeking out Jewish deli food in my travels. I hope you all had fun with The Mile End Cookbook! I did!