Tag Archives: Jewish deli

Cook the Books April! Review and Round-up! The Mile End Cookbook

30 Apr

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?

Challah bread, by Fresh From Oregon

Challah bread, by Fresh From Oregon

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!

Latkes, by

Latkes, by 20o Birdies

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.

Maple Baked Beans, by

Maple Baked Beans, by Homemade Trade

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!

Pickled Beets, by Eat Locally Blog Globally

Pickled Beets, by Eat Locally Blog Globally

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!


Various pickles, by Jams, Chutneys and Other Misadventures

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!


Shaping cinnamon rolls, by Eat Locally Blog Globally


The finished product, by Eat Locally Blog Globally

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!

Lox, by 200 Birdies

Lox, by 200 Birdies

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!

Hamantaschen, by Tea Time Advnetures

Hamantaschen, by Tea Time Adventures

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!


Tri-Color Carrot Cake, by Fresh From Oregon

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.

Cheesecake, by Cook Can Read

Cheesecake, by Cook Can Read

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!

Beef on Weck, by My KZ Life.

Beef on Weck, by My KZ Life.

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!

Mish Mash, by Homemade Trade

Mish Mash, by Homemade Trade

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:


Smoked Meat, by Mother's Kitchen

Smoked Meat, by Mother’s Kitchen

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!

  • Smoked Meat and Smoked Meat Sandwich!



  • 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!


  • Latkes!


  • Hamantaschen!


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.

There are NO substitutions at Wilensky's in Montreal.

There are NO substitutions at Wilensky’s in Montreal.

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.

Noah slicing meat.

Noah slicing 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!


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.


I took this when I ate there! It was delicious, thanks!

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!


Cook the Books April! Finally…Smoked Meat!

29 Apr

OK, Cook the Bookers, I have one last thing to tell you about my experiments with The Mile End Cookbook this month. Although thoughts have turned to next month’s tome, it’s still April goddammit, so I have to tell you that I made the centerpiece of the whole damn cookbook. Smoked meat!


Why am I telling you about this so damn late! Well, cuz it took me over two weeks start to finish! And? It was worth it!

I picked The Mile End Cookbook for this cookbook challenge for selfish reasons. I wanted to learn how to smoke meat. My dad has been smoking meat for years. Christmas Eve wouldn’t be Christmas Eve in the ohbriggsy household without smoked turkey. So as soon as the year began, I chose this book and put “Buy a Smoker” on my to-do list. That’s easier said than done for me, friends. Cuz, see, I gotta do like a shit ton of research on whatever bullshit thing I decide to buy. My dad said, Get An Electric Smoker, It’s Easier! Geez dad, did we just meet? When it comes to cooking and kitchen projects, I’m loathe to choose the easiest options usually. Unless it’s a weeknight and my stories are coming on, that is!

So I narrowed it down. I decided to get a charcoal/wood-burning smoker. Next, I had to decide on a brand. I hit up some online smoked meat forums (Yes, those do exist), and wow, there’s a helluva lot of information about smokers. In the end, I went with my gut and the recommendations of the fine ladies and gents from the smokingmeatforums.com and got the Weber Smoky Mountain 18.5 inch smoker. Sorry, dad! I have to do this the old-fashioned way.  Thanks to the fine folks at UPS and my Amazon Prime membership, a few days later, this bad boy was at my door.


Meanwhile, I had read the comprehensive chapter on smoked meats in The Mile End Cookbook and was warned that smoked meat took at least 12 days start to finish, so I needed to get this thing moving. So all the way back on Wednesday April 10th, I went to my fave Seattle butcher shop, Bob’s Quality Meats, and got a brisket, per the specs of Noah and Rae in The Mile End Cookbook. I got an 11 lb whole beef brisket. I trimmed the fat cap myself. After trimming, the brisket weighed about 9.5 pounds.


Don’t trim your fat cap this much! The fat cap side was the other side of this brisket. Trim the fat cap to about 1/4 inch.

I followed Noah and Rae’s cure mixture to the T. It was a sight to behold. It calls for a whole pound of garlic. Actually, when I saw that it called for that much garlic, I knew this recipe was for me. Thank god for Costco pre-peeled organic garlic! Life saver!



The cure also calls for pink curing salt. Due to my previous dalliances with Charcuterie and Charcutepalooza, I had it on hand.


So into the dry brine my brisket went! And there it sat for 12 days!


Finally, last week, it was ready to be transformed. I had my smoker and it was set up and ready to go. I was going to try my hand at smoking by starting with a turkey breast, you know, to ease my way in.  I had bought a turkey breast and put it in it’s wet brine, but then I got the flu and had to turn the thing into turkey soup instead. Cuz, friends, you can’t smoke meat when this is your life’s theme song:

Parenthood! The movie, not the (awesome) teevee show! I just remembered that the movie took place in St. Louis!

So yeah, I decided to go big or go home. Yep, I’d never smoked meat before and yep, I was starting with a 10 lb brisket. Yep, I don’t even ever participate in making fire when we go camping or have them in our backyard firepit. But yep, I was gonna tend a fire on weeknight for 6-8 hours with an estimated done time of midnight! That’s how I roll!

So last Monday I removed my brisket from the cure. It looked good. After you remove it, you rinse it and soak it for 4 hours. This tempers the saltiness of the meat.



As it soaked, I scrambled around town for last-minute supplies. I had realized that morning that I didn’t have a digital probe meat thermometer and I really needed a digital probe meat thermometer! I’ll admit it, I’ve had about 20 meat thermometers over the last few years. I’m always losing them, or more often melting them. A digital probe thermometer costs a bit more, but it’s kinda idiot proof. You stick the heat proof end in the meat and go about your business. Then after the right number of hours, just connect the adapter on that end to the digital thermometer and, voila. Perfect for smoked meat and a good investment at 30 bucks.


I also worried that I didn’t have the right kind of wood chips. I had purchased some hickory and apple wood chips when I bought the smoker, but Noah and Rae called for a more neutral wood like oak. Tip: Don’t go searching around your local run of the mill grocery store for oak wood chips. All your ass is gonna find is hickory. I had no luck and didn’t wanna be outside smoking at 2am when I had work the next morning, so I used half hickory (a strong, assertive wood to smoke with) and apple (a much lighter wood typically used for fish or poultry). Spoiler alert: Worked like a charm!


Finally, it was time to smoke. I was nervous. I followed the directions that came with the Smokey Mountain and this book, and it was actually quite easy. I used a firestarter to get the charcoal going–I had never done that before, and it worked perfectly. Once the top coals got slightly grey, I emptied them into the charcoal area of the Weber, tossed on about 4 chunks of wood (2 apple, 2 hickory), shut the lid and started monitoring the temperature, and hoped for the best.



The temperature got quite hot at first. The Weber is cool because you can easily control temps with the air flow controls on the unit. There are three of them. For hotter temps, open the air holes. To cool down the temps, close off the air holes. Kinda easy peezy! One I got to a perfect 225°, in went the meat. Cuz I had the digital probe thermometer, and the Weber is equipped with a door for adding charcoal and wood on the bottom of the unit, my goal was to never open the lid.


Reviews of this Weber unit indicated that the quality construction of the smoker made it maintain temperatures pretty well, meaning that you don’t need to spend every second monitoring the temperature. It was my first time and everything, but I did feel like I had to monitor the temperature pretty often. Prolly cuz I was nervous. The temperature indicator shows you what is in the reasonable “smoke” range, which helps. According to Noah and Rae, this brisket is to smoke at 215° for 6-8 hours. Mine smoked for 6 hours and ranged between 200°-250°. It was hard to keep it at an even 215°, but I cannot stress enough that I am a complete noob when it comes to charcoal cooking. Hell,  I only have ever had a gas bbq! So at first when the temperature dropped, I was all like, what the hell do I do! Duh doy! I add charcoal! I was probably adding too much charcoal and extra chunks of wood out of nervousness, because often after my additions, the temperature would get way top hot. In fact, that’s the only reason I had to open the lid, to cool it down a few times.


Otherwise, I would call my first foray into smoking a success! I put the meat on about 3:40 pm and when I finally checked the temperature at 11pm that night, it was 160 steady. Donezo!


But continuing in the The Mile End Cookbook world of delayed gratification, I had to take the meat off the smoker and then put it in the fridge for a day, uncovered. But holy shit, I wish I had smell-o-vision for y’all to smell how good this sucker smelled coming into the house at 11pm. I was drooling.


I wasn’t able to move on to the next step for a few days due to other obligations, so the next day I wrapped the brisket, all fancy like.


Ok, not fancy. This actually looks like a child wrapped it.

Finally, on Friday, I moved on to the final step. Steaming the smoked meat! At first I had wondered why this was necessary. I realized why when I touched the brisket the next day.  It was very hard after a day in the fridge. Then I had to figure out how the heck to steam this thing. Noah and Rae give vague instructions about using a stove top steamer, but I didn’t have anything big enough to accommodate the brisket. I ended up using the same bamboo steamer I used for my dumplings and baos in February. I figured, if it reeked of smoked meat by the end of the project, at worst I was out the 12 bucks for the cost of a new bamboo steamer.


Ok, then there’s the cutting. I found the instruction for cutting the brisket in half for steaming purposes to be pretty vague. Noah and Rae tell you to cut it where the fat cap changes from being thick to thin. However, you can’t see the thickness of the fat cap in a cooked piece of brisket that was covered in peppercorns and coriander and then smoked to a dark brown color for hours on end. I ended up just cutting it in half. Once I cut it in half, I could see where the fat cap changed and kind of makeshift the proper cut.

After about 90 minutes of steaming, it seemed that the meat was tender and thus steamed enough. Finally, the moment of truth. I tasted a piece plain. And? Holy Fucking Shit. It was so good. You could really taste the benefits of all the time curing and resting and of the final spice rub. The meat was perfectly salted and had wonderful garlic undertones. After smoking, it had a beautiful crust where I had applied the peppercorn/coriander rub. The first slice was tender and amazing.


We decided to keep it simple and follow Noah and Raw’s exact recipe for a smoked meat sandwich. Rye bread, smoked meat, and mustard. I used store-bought rye bread. I know. I was disappointed in myself, too. But it worked perfectly. I asked Double S to pick up some mustard and she came home with Grey Poupon, and it fit the bill perfectly. Plus that purchase allowed us to reminisce about these, which we still find hilarious.

In the end, I thought the meat need to be steamed longer, as it was tender enough at first, but quickly got a bit too tough. Prolly because I didn’t cut it as instructed, maybe becasuse I smoked it too long. Noah notes that the back end of the brisket needed to be steamed a total of about 3 hours. Maybe I was eating the back end that night? I’m really not sure. I’d just say err on the side of steaming as long as you can.


Oh yeah, the sandwich was amazing. We ate the sammie with beer and potato chips, and I was in heaven. Totally worth the time, and it made me really excited to try making the beef salami.


A few closing notes: I think the brisket got slightly overdone due to my bad techniques in adding too much charcoal at one time and thereby raising the temp too high several times to over 350°. Bad ohbriggsy! A nice long smoke at 215° would have been perfect. Granted, this is a perfect project for a Sunday afternoon while you’re sitting with your friends and loved ones drinking beer and maybe listening to Journey, and then you can monitor the temperature all day with ease. I did this on a Tuesday after work and was going in and out of the house watching it all day while doing other things.  Downgrade!  Let’s listen to Journey now, shall we?

Ahh, that’s better.  Anyway, I think the amount of smokiness I achieved was perfect for my tastes, and the apple/hickory mix worked well. These are the most readily available wood chips in the stores, so that works out. Once I better master charcoal and temperature control, I’m gonna be rolling. It was confusing the way Noah and Rae instruct you to use wood and how my smoker’s instructions told me to use wood. I gotta read up on that before my next attempt.  I would pretty much just add a few chips of wood every time I added charcoal.

All in all, the smoked meat is the cornerstone of The Mile End Cookbook and was worth the price of admission. I’m excited to keep smoking, especially now that we’re getting closer to summer.


Anyone else smoke anything??  And with that, I declare myself finished with April Cook the Books!  Huzzah!