Cook the Books! Review: The Mile End Cookbook

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I was pretty excited about The Mile End Cookbook. Everything sounded so promising. So comforting. So delicious. I mean, really? Pickles? Cured meats? Home-y sides? Cheesecake? What is not to love really?

The Cooking:

I made a lot of things. I think I gave it a pretty fair shot, but in the end I was unimpressed. I did skip the cured meats entirely – out of a lack of both equipment and adequate cash flow. After my first questionable endeavors, I was reluctant to fork over a bunch of money for some pricey hunks of meat that may, or may not, turn out.

The Review:

Briggs did a review of our low-key and impromptu April Cook the Books! Dinner Party – so check it out! We got to carry on the French 75 tradition, this month using rhubarb from our garden! Woot! As always, it was a fun night! I was a little scattered and frantic because just before they were coming over, I found out my dad was scheduled for his liver transplant the following morning. Alas, it got cancelled. But at the time, I was making pickle plates, pulling things out of the fridge, packing a suitcase, talking to my brother, showering, talking to my mom, picking up the house, sweating, calling airlines, and generally getting excitedly teary.

grow and resist april cook the books rhubarb

Fresh cut rhubarb. Rhubarb leaves make me ridiculously happy. You just can’t help but smile when faced with a leave 4 times the size of your head!

Recipe/Writing Style: In my usual cooking I am loath to follow recipes completely. I improvise. Switch up ingredients based on what I have on hand. However, during the Cook the Books series, I am doing my best to put my usual suspicion of odd sounding directions aside and perform the novel task of following directions. So, while a 12″ cake pan for a cheesecake seemed like a giant mistake, I went forth. As it turns out, the cheesecake turned out lovely for another participant using a more standard 9″ springform, but it didn’t work at all as written. I’m evaluating cookbooks, as written, for better or worse.

  • Did the recipes taste good? For the most part, not great. The theme throughout the month was either salty (*see below note on kosher salt) or failed desserts. The pickle brine was so incredibly salty that I ended up draining all the pickles (reserving the brine) and soaking the pickled items in water for a period of time before returning to the jar with a mix of ½ water and ½ reserved brine. I still find them too salty to be eaten alone (except the asparagus), but am enjoying them chopped on salads. They are particularly good on arugula with a swirl of olive oil and squeeze of lemon.
  • Would I use it again? With a few exceptions (cinnamon buns, challah, and scallion sauce), no. Pickling fennel was new for me and I adored it, though will be changing the salt content dramatically. There are many things I was curious about attempting. Knishes, rugelach, weck rolls, and blintzes. However, I’ll probably search out another recipe source for those items.
  • Is it reliable? No.
  • Does it use real food? Yes!
  • Can I replicate the recipes and are the results worth the effort? No. The cheesecake, in particular, was a strange recipe that was not replicable. And, there are loads of great pickling books out there, no need to continue on with recipes that have proven to be overly salty.

Other: I really enjoyed Rae and Noah’s stories of how they met, their mutual love of the Jewish deli-and-comfort food and Noah’s drop out of law school. I love stories of people giving up perceived security (or following someone else’s dream) to follow their own passion. I love the gutsiness of opening their own restaurant on a whim, a hope, and a made-from-scratch ethic.

Even as I found all the pickled items too salty, I enjoyed the inclusion of wide strips of lemon zest in the pickled asparagus and pickled fennel.

*A note about kosher salt: the authors point out that different brands of kosher salt will contain varying amounts of sodium. Prospect: The Pantry discussed it further in her post, including actual breakdowns of weight/sodium in a few well-known brands. However, in all recipes I used the called for Diamond Crystal kosher salt.

How was your Mile End month? Briggs will have the Cook the Books! April Wrap-up posted later this week! Then make sure to pop over and see what everyone made!

Reminder that Cook the Books! May is Tender by Nigel Slater. I’ll be introducing it early this week. It is perfect timing with the return of more variety at the farmers market and (location dependant), enjoying your first-of-the-year harvests. Spoiler alert: I ticked off a few recipes this weekend and was incredibly happy with them!

We hope you join us!

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