The month is flying by while The Mile End Cookbook, and life in general, continue to bum me out. What a cruddy few weeks of news, huh? And, to top it off my Dad didn’t get a liver transplant. Again. This is the 2nd time a transplant has been cancelled while I’ve been en route. And countless others where he has been on standby and not been the one. This time was far more difficult in that they had brought him back to the operating room and were ready to begin the surgery but his heart couldn’t stabilize so they were unable to go ahead. After 2 days of solid testing, no one can figure out why his heart freaked out. But it did. And there isn’t a new liver. We are feeling pretty crushed.
Anyway. The cookbook. Since my last (salty) update, I made cinnamon buns, more romanian steak with spring onions with scallion sauce, kasha varnishkes, maple baked beans, rye bread, braised brisket with red wine and prunes, golden beet salad with schmaltz vinaigrette, and, cheesecake.
Let’s break ’em down and start with the awesome, shall we?
Cinnamon buns (pg 115) I loved them. So very, very, much. Lick the baking pan delicious! I might have even bragged that they were the best cinnamon buns I have ever eaten. No, really…ever. It is a boastful claim to be sure, but in this case, likely true. The challah bread dough was perfect. The buns were ooey and gooey and soft. When I make them again I’ll try more of a cream cheese frosting/topping. I personally would add raisins in my portion, but I know raisins aren’t for everyone. I left out the nuts because I think nuts are evil, but leave them in, if that is your thing. As with most of the book’s recipes, there was quite a bit of salt (1 tablespoon!) in the filling and, while salty, it helped cut the intense sweetness.
Romanian Steak with Spring Onions (p.139) with Scallion Sauce (p.76) We made this again and it was really good. And somehow I still didn’t take pictures. Again. What is wrong with me? This time we did a short salt-dry age with just a small amount of salt before putting in the marinade and I think it was perfect. The marinade is good and my Ladyfriend cooked it perfectly. That sauce! Oh, that sauce! I want to just snuggle a jar of that sauce. Recommend!
Kasha Varnishkes (p 158)– I really like kasha varnishkes and this version was fine. I place kasha varnishkes in the macaroni and cheese category of food. They both provide a similar comforting, but not fancy, need. I liked it. It even worked as leftovers. But, in terms of a recipe, it wasn’t much different than the recipe on the box. I certainly don’t mean that as a burn. It is what it is. Kasha is good and comforting. And, shouldn’t be fancied up. Does anyone wants upscale kasha? That would seem very hipster-suspect to me.
Maple Baked Beans (pg 81)– I love baked beans, but haven’t made them starting with dry beans (even though I used dried beans most of the time for other purposes). The beans were good- especially after the 1st day (as recommended by the authors). I used regular thick sliced bacon in place of lamb bacon. I am sure the lamb bacon would have been great, but I didn’t feel like trying to make it and having it not turn out. And, I have no dietary restictions on pork bacon. While the beans were good, and the method worked, I much prefer a tomato based baked bean. I am looking forward to trying out making the baked beans I love using dried beans and fresh herbs.
Rye Bread (pg 174)– My loaf turned out pretty good. The soft texture was perfect for making sandwiches. I don’t tend to like a hard, crusty bread for sandwiches. A little is fine, but I prefer my rye bread soft, yet sturdy– and the recipe delivered. It could have used a bit more salt and caraway, which is odd since every other recipe I made has been overly salty. I will say that it also wasn’t any different flavor-wise than the 5-minute breads/no-knead varieties I’ve made in the past…despite the recipe utilizing a rye poolish. I have noted that the bread has lasted longer however and I think a poolish/biga/pre-ferment can help with that, but not sure. So, overall an easy-to-make, well-textured, but somewhat bland, loaf of rye bread.
Braised Brisket with Red Wine and Prunes (pg 140)– Brisket is good. Braised brisket is tasty. Yum. And despite how easy a braised brisket is to make, there were some oddities in this recipe. 25 prunes + 1/3 cup of packed brown sugar makes for a super sweet sauce for 4# of brisket. I found it cloying and we thought it overwhelmed the meat, the onions, the garlic, and all fresh herbs (thyme, rosemary, bay). What I found really odd was that the recipe calls for setting aside all the prunes, and only one cup of the vegetables and throwing away the rest! Tossing all the extra carrots and onions! Crazy talk people. The recipe then calls for blending all the drippings/remaining sauce with the mere 1 cup of veggies and 1/4 of the prunes, then chop the remaining prunes and add to sauce. I will tell you that this makes an enormous amount of sauce. An enormous amount of very sweet, cloying sauce that I wouldn’t put on anything. So, instead of keeping the delicious onions, carrots and having them on the side- we had pureed sweet mash. The brisket itself was pretty good. I had a few decent leftover brisket sandwiches made better by piling them high with assorted pickles. I would definitely not make this again
Golden Beet Salad with Schmaltz Vinaigrette (pg 170)– Now, I love beets. A lot. But the schmaltz vinaigrette? A half a cup of schmaltz???? That, my friends, is a near crap ton of schmaltz. A rather disgusting amount of schmaltz for a mere tablespoon of vinegar. Normally a vinaigrette is about a 3 oil to 1 vinegar ratio. Not 8 to 1. Shudder. And schmaltz is kind of an intense fat. Needless to say…it was, um, digustingly heavy, even when I used only a minimal of the called-for dressing. The recipe said there would be vinaigrette leftover and I used very little of it and threw away a lot of vinaigrette. I made Dorie’s Lime and Honey Beet Salad with some additional beets I had on hand. (Briggs wrote up here…and that is a delicious beet salad. In the market for a beet salad? Lesson learned: hit up Dorie.) The schmaltz beets went to the chickens. Incidentally, does it see, wrong to feed chickens schmaltz (rendered chicken fat)?
Cheesecake (pg 191) A big ol’ what-the-hell? to the cheesecake. This turned out the to be the dumbest cheesecake ever. First of all- a 12 inch cake pan? That is a big cake pan friend. Unless you are making professional cakes, you are unlikely to have a cake pan this size. Also, that size pan you won’t find at your local Target, Fred Meyer, Beth, Bath, & Beyond or the like. No, I needed to go to the restaurant supply store. Not a total hardship, because it is on my way home and a fun store. But still, kind of a lot to ask for a home cook just wanting to try a cheesecake recipe. And really…why a cake pan instead of a more standard springform? Then, one must cook the cheesecake in a water bath. No whoop. I mean, you often do that with cheesecake. However, when using a dumb 12-inch pan, this means you need a baking dish that is larger than said 12-inch cake pan. That also has sides so you can fill up with water. So, don’t get thinking you will get by with your standard large baking sheet or jelly roll pan. No, I had to go back to the restaurant supply store and purchase a 14-inch cake pan to act as a baking dish for the 12-inch pan. This was to be a ginormous cheesecake friends.
The recipe calls for cooking for about 1 hour (starting at 500°, then reducing to 225°), until the center measures 150°F (again, what is with the temperature measure as a mode of cake testing? I have made a lot of cakes in my time and never encountered using a thermometer to test doneness. And, my cakes nearly always turn out done. So?) After ½ hour, I went to turn the cake and it was surprised as hell to find that it was very done and measured 190°F. Yes, I cooked the crap out of that cheesecake. It was edible, but certainly not creamy. More like the the bit of cheesecake one might find in a brownie or black-bottom cupcake. If you manage to think of it as another desert entirely (perhaps a cheesecake tart?), rather than the expected cheesecake, it was sort of good. Just not cheesecake.
Sadly, that was not all. That filling, while tasty, was the wrong amount for a 12-inch pan. Of course this is why the cheesecake was well overcooked in just half the time. The filling layer was nearly the same thickness as the graham crust! The result was a thin, cheesecake-like thing that resembled the photo in the book in exactly zero ways.
Another not-as-important complaint: the recipe shows a blueberry compote on top. There was no recipe for any kind of berry compote. Sure, I can make a compote (and did). I can look up assorted ways to make compote. But, I am trialing a cookbook. I wanted to try the compote shown…. know what I mean?
You can really tell I used eggs from our happy-loads-of-fresh-greens-eating chickens as the cheesecake was quite yellow. I mean, check out that yellow! I have very happy chickens, what can I say?
I don’t think I’ll be trying anything else from the cookbook. Briggs made hamantaschen and I tasted those and they’ll be finishing up some smoked meat tomorrow, so I’ll get some nibbles of that too. Stay tuned, I’ll do a final review of the book early next week sometime, as well as introducing our May selection, Tender by Nigel Slater.
Participating in Cook the Books this month? Send your link to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll include it in the wrap up sometime midweek!