Genius Recipes, Number 3: Brisket of Beef

January 28, 2018

How can it be that a nice Jewish girl, like me, gets through 60 years of life, likes to cook, and  has never made a brisket? I am dumbfounded that that is true, but it is. After all, briskets are a staple in a Jewish family – at least I thought so. I can remember both my mom and Nanna making plenty. My sister loves them and makes them regularly – yet I have never made a single one until today. How was the even possible? So, I decided to give it a try.

beef

Oh, boy – briskets are huge, hunking pieces of meat. The recipe calls for a six pound brisket. I bought a five-pounder and it was still too big for my pot (I’m just going to have to buy a bigger dutch oven – darn). I had to cut it down twice to get it to fit snugly. I know that briskets shrink while cooking – I remember that discussion at the dinner table between my mom and Nanna – but how much would it shrink? How much was just the right amount to cut off? In the end, I guessed and cut about a 5″ wide strip from one end – which was a lot of scraps to be used some other way – to be figured out later. Maybe I could save them for the Muppet, my one year old goldendoodle.

There’s very little that goes into this recipe. The brisket, a tiny bit of flour, black pepper, oil, a ton of onions, tomato paste, salt, garlic, and one carrot. Putting it all together was fast and easy. But this dish makes a mess. Truly, a great big mess. First, you brown it on both sides. I have the 5 3/4 quart Staub dutch oven. I thought that would be high enough to keep the spattering fat and grease from messing up my stove top, but it wasn’t. Note to self: The next dutch oven needs to be bigger and deeper. After browning and seasoning it, the beef goes into the oven for 1 1/2 hours. After that, you bring it out, slice it up, and put it back in the oven. The meat was hot, really, really hot – almost too hot to pick up and handle. Not knowing what to expect – novice brisket maker here – I sliced it and the juices went everywhere, all over the cutting board, into the trough of the board, and then spilling over the sides. What a mess – juices and beef blood everywhere, total yuck.

Then the panic was beginning to set in. Between the mess and the lack of confidence that I was actually cutting it against the grain (because who could really tell now? There were juices and beef blood all over), I had a mini freak out. While I had the current mess in front of me, the recipe wanted me to put it all back in the oven with the slices over lapping each other on a slight angle so you could “see the top of each slice” and it resembled the original uncooked brisket. What?????? How do you do that with the mess in front of you??? The only thing I could think of was to put on kitchen gloves and do it in small groups. That worked, but as I placed the last cut pieces in like a puzzle to nestle with the other pieces, it all sunk into the juices in the pot. So who knows if it would all come out like the photo? The book’s writer suggested that this will be the only brisket recipe you will ever need and this is the most Googled brisket recipe of all time. We. Will. See.

dutch oven

The brisket has been in the oven for a total of two hours, and my kitchen has the most amazing smells floating through the air. I have very high expectations for this dish…

After 4 hours in a low, slow oven, it looks amazing and smells even better. I’ve pulled out a small piece and it fell apart with the touch of a fork – so at least it is tender. Now, the hard part. The recipe promises that it is even better the next day. So, we wait… until tomorrow… and I will be thinking about this a lot in the next 24 hours. Seems to me if this is a good as so many people say, it will become a favorite for company – mostly because it cooks by itself and then you just have to warm it up the next day.

It has been 24 hours, and the brisket is back in a low, slow oven for at least an hour, maybe two. To reheat it, it says to put it in a 200º oven for an hour or longer. I left it in there for two hours, and it still hasn’t heated through, so I turn up the heat to 250º and let it sit in there for about 45 minutes. That seems to work better.

What I am really curious about is that the recipe says watch the level of moisture at least three times. If the brisket looks like it is getting dry, add a little water. Mine has so much juice that it almost completely covers the brisket. I think that is a really good thing, don’t you? Do you think that means I got a really good cut of brisket? Maybe a fresh one, not an old dried out one? Does anybody out there know about brisket?

In the end, I was exhausted from the whole thing. I tried to take pictures, but they didn’t turn out very well. However, the brisket on the edges was moist and flavorful and did fall apart with a fork. The pieces in the center were tough and seemed dry – how that happened, I don’t know. I will make this one again – at this point in my life, I won’t let a beef brisket defeat me. I’ll probably try a smaller one or buy a bigger dutch oven. Or maybe both – big grin.

Sadly, this one did not make me a genius at conquering brisket – but I am one step closer and I think it’s fair to give it a few more tries. I think this dish has real promise.  

brisket

This whole recipe had me wondering why I have never made my mother’s or grandmother’s recipe, and why didn’t I even have it in my recipe file? Why????? I don’t have a really clear answer about that – but maybe I’ll try to hunt one down. It would be interesting to know how Nanna’s recipe compares to this one.

This recipe is by Nach Waxman, the co-owner of the cookbook store Kitchen Arts & Letters in New York City. I wondered why a cookbook store owner would have a dish in Genius Recipes. Nach Waxman opened his book store in 1983. Before that, he was in the world of book publishing. His passion is Indian food, but he has an interest in Jewish food traditions as well. He is a member of the James Beard Foundation’s Hall of Fame. This recipe, developed by  Nach, takes parts of his mother’s and his mother-in-law’s recipe tricks to perfect the best brisket. If you go to his web site – it is eye-opening – it is a cookbook fan’s favorite dream. He and his store are well known throughout the culinary world. He seems to be a man who know so very much about food!

Four days later, all the brisket had been eaten, so I felt good about that. I noticed that as the leftover brisket sat in the juices in the fridge, they got better. The beef that had been tough was more tender. I think the lesson I learned was to cook it until it is very tender even in the middle, and it’s OK to wait to eat it the next day or in a few days. Just make sure it is all submerged in the juices.

The cost: $46.16. The brisket came from Costco at $30, and the rest of the remaining ingredients, the ones I didn’t already have at home, I got at Ralph’s, one of our local markets. The onions were surprisingly expensive.

The time: 4-5 hours to cook, then let it sit in the refrigerator for another 24 hours.

Genius Recipes, Number 1: Eggless Lemon Curd

January 15, 2018

meyer lemons first yield

I must have started writing this post a hundred times. Nothing sounded right, nothing felt right. This was procrastination staring me in the face. Taunting me with the possibility of success or failure. Saying to me, “I dare you.” And procrastination was winning. So here goes… I’m standing up for myself and stepping off into this world of genius cooking, book number one.

One of the cookbooks I chose is Food52’s Genius Recipes. The subtitle says “100 Recipes that will change the way you cook.” Let’s hope so, because I could use some help. The book is put together by Kristen Miglore, with a forward by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs. It is a New York Times bestseller and James Beard Foundation Award-nominated. It promises “to make us rethink the way we cook” and that its recipes are “fool proof.” Yeah, I hope so. The recipes come from major chefs and well-known food bloggers. Chefs like Julia Child, Marcella Hazan with her legendary tomato sauce, cookie extraordinaire Dorie Greenspan, and Rose Levy Beranbaum. The editors also include “genius tips” that promise to share tricks that will make the recipes genius and part of my daily rotation. Hmmmm… Will I become a genius cook??? Well, we will see…

What to tackle first? I wanted to start with the mushroom bourguignon, but didn’t. I bought the groceries for that dish five times, and every time I ended up having to throw them out because I always found something else to do… like pick lemons, do the dishes, straighten up the house, even do the laundry. Ridiculous, right? There it was again – procrastination, fear of failure, lack of confidence.

So what better way to start than with a dessert – one that seemed to be a good stepping off point?

It seemed easy, used lemons, and it is Meyer lemon season – yeahhhhhhhh!!!!! Meyer lemons are my most favorite citrus fruit ever – really ever. A Meyer lemon is sweeter than a regular lemon. It is a mix of a regular lemon and a Mandarin orange. The peel is very, very thin and the skin is smooth. I discovered Meyer lemons last year thanks to a Facebook group called Food In Jars; now, I hoard them by buying the best from Lemon Ladies Orchard and starting to grow my own. I am now the proud owner of five baby Meyer lemons trees in my backyard.

meyer lemon eggless curd

Yesterday, I made Chef Elizabeth Falkner‘s Eggless Lemon Curd. Dessert sounded good, Elizabeth Falkner’s dessert sounded even better, and I had a bucket of Meyer lemons waiting for me to turn them into magical things. It was a mix of Meyer lemons, sugar, butter, sweetened condensed milk, and agar powder. And it was good – really, really good. Creamy, slightly tart, light, and melt in your mouth good. I have always been a fan of Elizabeth Falkner, so I was happy to make this. I even sacrificed six of my Meyer lemons to it knowing it would be worth it.

meyer lemon paste

There were two things that were new to me – using agar powder and making a paste out of lemon zest and sugar. Agar powder is used in place of gelatin to thicken the lemon curd, and the paste was used to help the lemon shine throughout the recipe. I liked both and would definitely make the lemon paste again. The agar powder? I would go back to gelatin for thickening. The curd was the perfect consistency after it was taken off the stove, but a day later, after sitting in the refrigerator, it is as hard as a bar of soap. Like you could carve a design in it – just like a bar of soap. Not a happy camper here with deflated visions of eating it for lunch today. When my daughter tried, she said it felt like eating a candle. I am sure I cooked it far too long – I waited for it to thicken on the stove instead of letting it thicken on its own after the cooking was done.

A day later – did it make me a genius? Not yet – but it was one really good attempt and could be successful just by reducing the amount of agar powder used. That and not cooking it longer than the recipe said. Clearly I am not a genius (yet) and I should have followed the recipe better.

But recipe one is done. Yeah!!!!!

The cost: $20.07. It would’ve been worth the money if we had eaten it the day I made it. Having had it sit in the fridge overnight and turn into a waxy candle of a dessert, I might as well have thrown the $20 out the window. The agar powder cost way more than I thought it would — $6.49 on Amazon. You might consider using gelatin from the market instead.

The time: About 30 minutes.