Tag Archives: Mile End Cookbook

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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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Cook the Books April! (Impromptu) Dinner Party!

24 Apr

Well, April. Come she will. Come she will. Wow, remember that episode of Parks and Rec where April and Andy get married? Such a good episode. I don’t give a shit about weddings as a rule, but it got a little dusty in my living room during the wedding scene when that song played during the wedding. Great song. Let’s listen to Paul and Art, shall we?

Anyway, as I’ve mentioned, it’s been a busy month. Double S and I went on a road trip. I got a terrible flu. Grow and Resist had to travel to Iowa for family medical stuff. But, since we skipped last month’s dinner party due to travels and general business, Meg and I really felt like we needed to have one this month. Meg contacted me late in the week to see if I was back amongst the living. I was all like:

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But then I was all like, sure! I can whip up some Jewish deli food! I thumbed through The Mile End Cookbook and tried to find some easy recipes I could throw together after being sick all week. Don’t worry, Meg said, lets keep it simple. That’s usually hard for me, but I did it!

I decided to make potato latkes (page 168 ) and hamantaschen (pages 201-203 ). Meg made the Romanian Steak with Spring Onions (page 139) and Scallion Sauce (page 76) and Cheesecake (pages 191-192). Since she had been cooking the books all week, she also served some of the fruits of that labor as well, and we got to taste the Lemon-Chile Pickled Asparagus (page 66) and the Pickled Fennel (page 72), as well as leftovers of the Maple Baked Beans (page 81) and the Kasha Varnishkes (page 138). Impromptu! But fun! And, yes! There were more French 75s! This one with seasonally appropriate rhubarb simple syrup! Success!

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So how did the recipes I made turn out? Pretty damn good, actually! Let’s start win the latkes. Ok, yeah, I made latkes last month too. We have a lot of potatoes from that January surprise potato harvest, mmkay? I gotta use that shit up! These were easy to make and were a crowd pleaser. I used about two pounds of our homegrown russets. And bonus! The recipe calls for quite a bit of chives, and lucky for us, we have some beauties growing out in the yard right now. I sent Double S out to pick a few handfuls!

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Beautiful! And thanks, Meg, for the heads up on how to divide and multiply these beauties. I’m gonna get them going all over our raised beds! I really like alliums in all their forms.

We made these up at home, and I fried them at Meg’s. I’m always frying at these dinner parties! I couldn’t get these to look as thin and nice and shredded as the accompanying photos in the book, but I got them thinner and crispier as I got more practiced with my shaping and frying. These fried easily and were delicious nice and hot. These were seasoned really well with onions and chives and salt and pepper. I ate mine with sour cream, because as you remember I fucking love sour cream, and I also had applesauce and hot sauce (Frank’s, natch!) available for everyone, but pretty much everyone ate them plain and really liked them. That’s the mark of a good recipe, right? Right!

The recipe calls for a lot of mixing by hand.  That’s my favorite way to mix anyway!

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See?  They were kinda too thick at first.  Maybe because the mixture sat too long before I fried them?

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Dinner is served! Well, there was more as you can read, but Meg and I were off our games in the picture taking department this month.

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Then I decided to try making a dessert. I knew Meg had made the cinnamon rolls when I was laid up, with great success I’d heard, and was making cheesecake for the evening, so I tried my hand with the hamantaschen. Backstory. I went to law school in Queens, NY. The school was in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood and had a sizable population of Jewish students. During the Jewish holidays one year, I was introduced to the simple deliciousness of hamantaschen. A simple cookie-like dough with a fruit center. I made two kinds of filling: traditional poppy seed and dried plum. The recipe called for dried prunes, but Double S and I have a plum tree and we dried our plums last year, so you know I had to use them.  Look!

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Double S likes to go way up in the tree and toss plums down to me.  Teamwork!

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They turned out good. And actually, they got better with time. At the dinner party, we ate them just a few hours after they’d come out of the oven, and I can’t say they were the hit of the party. However, as Double S and I ate them throughout the course of the following week, we liked them more and more. So if you give these a shot, make them a few days in advance. I really liked the lemon zest in the dough.

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After you make the dough, you form it into a giant disc and refrigerate it for a few hours.

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Then make your fruit mixtures.  Here are our dried plums!

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Shaping the hamantaschen was easy.  And I got to bust out my trusty tortilla press again!

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And how was the other stuff? Well, Meg being the hostess with the mostest that she is, we started with a pickle plate. Meg had issues with the saltiness of all the pickle recipes. Read here about the pickles and how she tried to rectify the problems. Well, she succeeded because the pickled fennel and the lemon chile asparagus pickles were the bomb. I like roasted fennel, but wow, these pickles were a revelation. I went home and made both of these pickles the next day. I can pickle that! And thanks, Meg for being the guinea pig who made these first and got all scientific trying to calm the salt down. If you make pickles from this book, beware of salt overload. When I made these the next day, I used a scant 3/4 cup salt in the general pickling brine and it seemed better.

Then there was the main course. Meg’s Romanian Steak with Spring Onions and Scallion Sauce was top notch. Jen, Meg’s partner and steak cook extraordinaire did a bang up job cooking the steak to perfection. And that scallion sauce? Holy fucking shit was that good! I’m gonna be making this with a quickness and prolly then pouring it on every meat item I eat. Meg had a big ass jar of it on the table, and was loving it too. Recommended.

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Meg also shared a couplea side dishes she’d made over the course of the week. As Meg told us, neither of these knocked our socks off. The maple baked beans were good, especially if you don’t like tomatoes in your baked beans, but we all agreed that we prefer a tomato based baked bean. I wouldn’t make these again.

Then there was the cheesecake. Meg had a lot of problems trying to make this bad boy. She told us about it here, but mainly this was a problem with bad instructions by the authors. Come on, Noah and Rae, a 12 inch cake pan? What do you think, we all run pizza shops out of our home kitchens? Meg had to make multiple runs to the kitchen supply store and wasn’t happy about it. We all thought the cheesecake was very low and salty and didn’t match the photo in the book at all. Kinda a weird critique for a cake, right? But I gotta say, Double S and I took a lot of cheesecake home and we devoured it over the course of this week. It really grew on us. I think if you made this in a regular run of the mill 8 inch springform pan like a normal person and topped it with seasonal fruit sauces, this thing could be a hit. At least at the homestead. And get this? I never really liked cheesecake in the past! Maybe that’s why I liked this one?  Regardless, I’m a convert.

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And that was our April dinner party. Meg then rushed off to Iowa to deal with family medical stuff. I made pickles the next day and FINALLY smoked meat this past Tuesday. I’ll tell you all about that Monday. And next week, Meg will introduce May’s book of the month and review The Mile End Cookbook, and I’ll round up the entries of the bloggers who played along this month and review it as well. If you cooked along, it’s not too late!  Send us your link: cookthebookschallenege@gmail.com.  Busy week! Have a good weekend, all!