April at Cook the Books! is all about Jewish comfort food! We are diving into The Mile End Cookbook. Briggs did the introduction a few weeks ago and I’m eagerly awaiting our Cook the Books! Dinner Party so I can taste some of the smoked meat.
Me? I’ve been hitting the pickles. So far the month has been a bit hit and miss. I’ll admit, I’m a little disappointed. But I am pushing on because so many things sound and look delicious!
Pickles and Preserves
I adore pickles and just about anything pickled. Pickling makes yummy things taste even better! I had a bit of a pickle-fest last week and made Pickled Beets, Pickled Fennel (p.72), Pickled Red Onion, Pickled Eggs, and Lemon-Chili Pickled Asparagus (p.66-67) The authors, Noah and Rae Bernamoff, start a lot of their pickles with a made-ahead basic all-purpose brine. I love this idea! Smart. That totally works for me! When it comes time to make the pickles, additional spices/flavors are added that make each pickle unique.
Sadly, the pickles have all turned out incredibly salty, despite using the called for kosher salt. At least for my palate, they were inedibly salty. The beets were the first we tasted and neither of us (me and the Babylady – my partner-in-pickles) could eat them. I was hoping that the saltiness was because the beets were cooked in the brine and that the rest would be fine. When I have made pickled beets in the past, I have cooked the beets first and added to the brine. (My favorite recipe is for the Gingery Pickled Beets found in Food in Jars! So, so, so good.) However, the fennel was also too salty. The eggs (that were perfectly cooked prior to brining) were quite rubbery after only 2 days in the beet brine. I pondered if I had mistakenly added too much salt to the brine, but am pretty sure I didn’t. After tasting the Pickled Asparagus that was made from a different brine (so not done at same time as the all purpose brine) and determined it to be too salty as well, I think it was just the recipe(s).
Salty or not, the underlying flavor was good. And pickles rule. I went about remedying the situation by checking in on the facebook page. A lot of great suggestions – thanks everyone! In the end, I went the simpliest route. I plopped a chunk of potato in each jar overnight. The next morning I drained each jar, reserving the brine, and soaked the pickles in plain water for about 30 minutes. I drained again and returned to jar with a roughly 50-50 mix of brine to fresh water. Problem solved! All the pickled items are now on-the-salty-edge of perfect and delicious. In fact, we had pickle plate dinner for a meal the other night.
Have you made any of the pickles? I’d love to hear your experience. While I don’t think I did anything wrong, measuring things when I am having the help of an eager 5-year-old is distracting… so it is not out of the realm of possibility that I just effed it up.
The Pickled Red Onions is a standard vinegar/sugar brine with pickling spices, but really good. The Babylady adores onions, so we are on our second batch. She eats them straight up out of the jar… and I can’t blame her, they are delicious!
Of all the pickled items, the fennel is the standout for me. Crisp, pickle-y, spicy, and fennel-y. It is fantastic mixed in a bowl of arugula with a bit of drizzled olive oil (one of my favorite ways to eat all pickles). I was already a fan of spicy in my pickled asparagus, but I loved the addition of lemon in this recipe, so I’ll be adding lemon when I make them from now on! I love that we now have bay leaves to pick year round in the garden, as well as brilliantly green thyme.
*Garden bonus! Remember last year all the pinning and talking about re-growing celery? Turns out you can do this with fennel bulb ends as well! I’ll be taking my fennel scraps to the garden!
I had a few lemons left from my friend Danielle’s tree in California, so made Preserved Lemons (p.75). Now, there is nothing to making preserved lemons… it is lemons, salt, any-spice-you-might-want, and time. However, one thing I liked about the directions in The Mile End was to just cut lemons in wedges in allow to sit in a bowl. For some reason most recipes call for cut your lemon nearly in half in multiple directions (to allow salt to enter lemon while keeping it intact, I presume), pouring salt in the openings, and cramming in jar. I never questioned the method, but now that I have just done the wedge/covered bowl with salt/transfer to jar way, the bizarre cutting seems pointless. Anyhow, I love preserved lemons and I’ll be sending a jar your way Danielle!
The Honey Cake (p.198), was (at least) a visual disaster. I am pretty sure this was entirely user error for the following dumb reasons:
- I haven’t replaced our broken instant read thermometer and the instructions called for cooking cake to a set temperature. I realized that after the cake was in the oven. Oops.
- I used a pan that, while potentially offering cute cakes, tends to turn out cakes that stick into crevices, don’t come out of the pan, and are unevenly cooked. I could stand to pick up a standard bundt cake pan.
- I overfilled the pan because said-pan also doesn’t hold a full cake recipe. A lesson I should have learned by now, but apparently refuse to do and likely never will.
- Some unknown/unexamined error on my part that I haven’t spent time worrying about. If you have guesses, do tell. But I don’t have an extra space in my worry-addled brain to worry about cakes. Or anything in the kitchen. Things turn out. Or they don’t. Maybe my fault. Maybe not. Pretty much end of story as far as my worry and sleuthing goes.
In the meantime… look at it! It is a mess! I’m only posting a picture because it was so terribly wrong. The cake overflowed the pan a zillion times over, creating an enormous mess inside the oven and setting off the smoke alarm repeatedly. It didn’t set. At all.
However – no worries! We scooped out and dusted with a bit of powdered sugar. Freakin’ delicious Honey-Puddin’-Cake, despite the serious ugly factor. And though it didn’t turn out at all like I intended, it was incredibly tasty. It was like a honey-flavored gingerbread. We all decided it would be great in a trifle of sorts, but we never got that far before the last spooned out dregs were eaten.
Mains and Sides
The Romanian Steak with Spring Onions (p.139) with Scallion Sauce (p.76) was simple and nice. The skirt steak has a wet rub/marinade of spanish paprika, oil, rosemary, and garlic. As an afterthought we gave it a short salt dry-age. I think this usually makes for a better steak, though we put it on after the marinade was on… so maybe was overkill? I don’t know. Since we didn’t make the steak without it, I have no comparison, but we really enjoyed the steak! It was tender and flavorful and took just minutes to cook. I’d like to try the same thing without doing the salt dry-age to compare as I’m not sure dry-aging is necessary for skirt steak. The recommended scallion sauce was fantastic. It is basically a version of chimichurri sauce with the addition of scallions. Yum. I would use this on eggs, potatoes, steak, chicken… you name it. Good stuff. And, I totally forgot to take pictures. Oops.
I liked the Potato Salad (p.132), however there wasn’t anything particularly inspired about it. I omitted the mustard (because mustard is the evil) and added a bit more vinegar to put in some of the missing mustard tang. It is a somewhat standard potato salad with parsley, red onion, red potatoes, and scallions. It is an egg yolk, vinegar, lemon, garlic, and oil based (aka mayonnaise) salad. I used only about 1/3 of the called for dressing, so can only imagine that it would have been a more mayonnaise intensive potato salad. I liked that the scallions were lightly charred and that the red onions sliced, rather than chopped, but other than that it was not really different than any other potato salad. It was, of course, good. I mean, potato salad is good. It just wasn’t memorable.
Coming Up Next
I want to try my hand at hamantaschen, kasha varnishkes, knishes, challah, blintzes, cinnamon buns, rugelach, and matzo ball soup. The golden beet salad with schmaltz vinaigrette sounds pretty good too! And cheesecake. Oh, how I love a good cheesecake!
Have you made anything?