The Piglet2012 / First Round, 2012

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home

Jeni Britton Bauer

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The Art of Living According to Joe Beef: A Cookbook of Sorts

The Art of Living According to Joe Beef

David McMillan, Frederic Morin, & Meredith Erickson

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Judged by: Dorie & Josh Greenspan

Dorie Greenspan is the author of ten cookbooks; her latest, Around My French Table, was on The New York Times Bestseller List and named 2010 Cookbook of the Year by the International Association of Culinary Professionals, Epicurious, and Amazon. A four-time James Beard Foundation award-winner, Dorie's book Baking From My Home to Yours is at the core of her iPad application, Baking with Dorie, and the inspiration behind the creation of Tuesdays with Dorie, the online baking club whose members just celebrated baking and blogging through all 300 recipes in the book — a project that took almost four years. A similar group, French Fridays with Dorie, with over 2000 members, was created to cook through Around My French Table. Dorie is a long-time blogger (well, long-time as blogging goes) and, with her son, Josh "The Kid" Greenspan, co-owner of CookieBar, where she's in charge of dreaming up new cookies for grown-ups. Dorie does her dreaming in Paris, New York City, Westbrook, CT and The Cloud.

Josh Greenspan has nearly a decade of experience in New York City's restaurant and nightlife industry. Although he grew up in the food world, he thought he'd become a sportswriter, but he got the bug and right after graduation went to work with Chef Daniel Boulud's Dinex Group. He started at the top, at 4-star Daniel, where he got to work with award-winning sommelier, Jean-Luc Le Du, and then he graduated to floor manager at the then brand-new DB Bistro Moderne.

But a club-kid is always a club kid and after he got out of the suit-and-tie he wore for Dinex, Josh worked a second job, promoting at some of New York City's hottest nightclubs, including Life, Spa and Halo. Eventually leaving the restaurant side of the business completely, Josh became the manager at Suede, whose A-List celebrity clientele helped make it the city's best club for nearly three years. Josh went on to open Rande Gerber's Stone Rose in the Time-Warner Center, ran Steve Hanson's nightclub Level V and most recently was in charge of Andre Balazs's hipster haven, Le Bain at The Standard Hotel.

The Judgment

Here's your takeaway at the top: You need these books. Both of them! These two books are completely, fundamentally, never-the-twain-shall-meet different from one another, but they're both must-haves.

Note to the Piglet people: At some point in our lives we may forgive you for assigning us books that are both so good that choosing between them caused family feuds and sleepless nights.

Josh here: Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home is both the title of Jeni Britton Bauer's good old-fashioned cookbook and a description of what you get. It's exactly the book I wish we'd had when I was growing up. While we owned an ice cream maker, it sat in a closet in the kitchen playing second fiddle to pints of Frusen Glädjé (remember them?) and Häagen-Dazs, pints that my mom (more from her shortly) always promised I could dip into at breakfast whenever I was too tired to have dessert after dinner. Of course I'd go to sleep dreaming of a chocolate ice cream breakfast…and wake up to find that she'd eaten all of it.

There's no guarantee that owning Bauer's book would have prevented the ice-cream monster from finishing whatever was in the freezer, but it certainly would have allowed me a small measure of delightful payback. Had it been around, I would have shaken my mom awake saying, "You promised me ice cream for breakfast — today I'd like Salty Caramel or Pineapple Piment D'Espelette Sorbet, please." (I was always a polite kid.)

This is a fun book from an ice cream maker who takes her work super seriously. If you've ever wanted to know what each ingredient in ice cream contributes to its texture and why, it's all here. And if you really want to know what makes ice cream ice cream, and what makes the great stuff great, it's here, too. The introduction to the chapter called "The Craft of Ice Cream" says "All those years I'd spent avoiding science classes in high school and college came back to haunt me when I started working with frozen confectionery. Freezing ice cream into a smooth, lickable, delicious mass is a very precise process. Math and science are required."

Mom took "Math and Science for Poets" in college, and she said the info was fascinating. If learning the intricacies of water soluble flavors isn't for you (it wasn't for me), you can skip right to the "Quick Take" and get an overview of Jeni's four-step process for making smooth, creamy ice cream at home. It's this method — you can use it with the least expensive ice cream maker — that makes Jeni's book a must-have: It will change the way you make ice cream forever. Over to Mom:

I love the way the recipes in this book are divided by seasons; I love that there are recipes like the one for French-style macaroons to use for ice cream sandwiches, or for Chocolate Bombshell, a chocolate sauce that turns hard when it hits ice cream (think Dairy Queen's dipped cone, but better); and I love the variety of flavors for ice cream, from traditional flavors like Frozen Lemon Yogurt, Black Coffee Ice Cream, and Maple Ice Cream, to the many more exotic flavors, like Gorgonzola Dolce Ice Cream with Candied Walnuts, Toasted Brioche Ice Cream with Butter and Jam, and Sweet Potato Ice Cream with Torched Marshmallows. But most of all, I love Jeni's technique and the true flavor and lovely texture that you get with it.

Following Jeni's base recipe, which replaces eggs with a cornstarch slurry to thicken the milk-cream foundation and uses cream cheese to create a luxurious texture, I made four ice creams that I'd gladly make again (if I didn't want to make all the others first): The Darkest Chocolate Ice Cream in the World, which was indeed dark, but also coffee-tinged; berry-red Grapefruit Hibiscus Frozen Yogurt; Sweet Corn and Blackberry Ice Cream, which a friend said was the best ice cream he'd ever eaten and then he finished it, leaving none for my breakfast (Josh, I felt your pain); and Honeyed Peanut Ice Cream with Dark Chocolate Freckles. By the time I made the peanut ice cream, I trusted Jeni's recipe completely and pulled out my best chocolate for the freckles.

Jeni's is a model of a single-subject book; Joe Beef is a model of what a new class of cookbooks is striving to become.

Back to Josh: The Art of Living According to Joe Beef calls itself "a cookbook of sorts," and it is, I guess, but it's much more about living and creating a life on your own terms out of the things that interest you. That these things happen to interest enough other people to fill three restaurants daily is a bonus.

It's a gorgeous book and its look and feel are a carefully crafted extension of the carefully crafted ideal that is Joe Beef, the restaurant. It's an ideal and a book that make you want to get out of the kitchen and hop the next fishing trawler, seaplane, or overnight train (trains loom large in the JB story) to the wilds of Canada. Yes, Canada, the place once referred to by Robin Williams as the loft above a really great house party.

Joe Beef's Canada (Montreal, really) is a ruggedly handsome place filled with do-it-yourselfers, the occasional vagabond-cum-oyster-shucking champion, and more atmosphere than you can wave a hockey stick at.

It's the atmosphere — perfectly evoked in the photographs — the stories and characters, and Meredith Erickson's funny, muscular, irreverent writing that kept me reading from cover to cover, sometimes guffawing and sometimes just shaking my head at the team's outrageousness. It almost goes without saying that the crew is brash. If they weren't, and if their cooking wasn't as good as their stories, would David Chang have written the book's intro? And would Bourdain, Zimmern, The Frankies guys, and the chefs from Animal have written quotes on the back cover?

Co-owners/chefs Frederic Moran and David McMillan are 19th century guys: hard-drinking, tough-talking, super-sensitive artists who are thoroughly committed to everything they do. Of course, they only do what they like, whether it's welding a marjolaine mold (step-by-step photos included, as well as a diagram for subbing a milk carton), planting a garden in an abandoned lot (ie, a "crack den"), constructing a smoker from scratch (complete DIY instructions, blueprints, and how-tos for welding included), or laying out the perfect Montreal weekend getaway (handy address book included). This book is their life guide.

And it's also a cookbook, of sorts, as Mom will tell you. Take it Mom:

If I showed you my copy of Joe Beef, you wouldn't be able to see the pages through the post-its. I didn't get around to the Marrowbones Cultivateur, described as thick French peasant vegetable soup with marrow and beautifully photographed, but I'll make it now that the weather has changed. Nor did I make the Smoked Cheddar with Doughnuts, but I will because the idea of glazing homemade doughnuts in a skillet full of maple syrup and then serving them with cheese is irresistible. I didn't make any of the cocktails — not Gin'n'Jews (made with Manischewitz), not the Vijay Singh (their alternative to Arnold Palmer), and not the Joe Beef Cesar (made with Clamato juice and finished with shucked oysters and a lobster claw), even though I wanted it the instant I saw the picture — but I did read every word of the 14-page I-don't-know-what-to-call-it, maybe an essay (probably not), on wine and booze, which includes this quote from David McMillan: "I love red Burgundy wine so much I want to pour it into my eyes." I get that.

I did make Pickled Rhubarb, which I've served with charcuterie (that wasn't homemade — sorry, fellas), but that I think would be extra-good with the same smoked cheese I'd use for the doughnuts. I made O+G's Cardamom Banana Bread (I'm a sucker for anything with cardamom), a recipe that came from a nearby luncheonette, and which called for every bowl I owned, produced a baker's dozen of "muffin-size loaves" instead of the indicated 10 and, while tasty enough, was more notable for the odd technique of nuking and draining the bananas then reducing their liquid than for the promised lusciousness of the bread. I made the pulled pork that was meant to accompany scallops with hollandaise and I made the pork's BBQ sauce and served the two on soft buns with coleslaw, and then I made it all again because it was so good. That the BBQ sauce, made with Coke, molasses, ketchup, vinegar, coffee, and sriracha, was one of my faves from Joe Beef probably says more about me than it does about the book.

And I made the ridiculously named Spaghetti Homard-Lobster and laughed my way through the recipe. After explaining that lobster should boil in water as salty as the sea, the authors say: "If you don't want to look at the live lobster as it boils, you are probably someone who likes to have sex with the light off. That's okay." Who wouldn't love non-judgmental chefs?

They're reassuring about the pasta, too: "We don't make our own spaghetti, so we don't expect you to, either. Drain it, then disregard the "canons of pasta" and go ahead and rinse it under cold water."

The end of the recipe reads: "Garnish with the parsley and serve family style (turn on the TV and start arguing)."

Comments like these are sprinkled throughout the recipes and the headnotes have the same cheeky tone. I thought I'd get annoyed or bored or both, but I didn't — the team is too smart and too honest; you just end up liking them tremendously.

However, I think they might give some consideration to a south-of-the-border version of the book: Only lumberjacks could take their serving sizes seriously. The lobster dish — which called for a 2 1/2-pound lobster to be cooked in 2 cups of cream and be finished with bacon and served with spaghetti — was meant to serve 2! I served 4 New Yorkers and no one went home hungry. (I also didn't tell them how much cream I used.)

Josh and Mom, together at last: We loved both of these books. And while we know we'll be churning our way through Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream until we've made every last recipe, and we'll be using her base to make our own flavors, we're calling Joe Beef the winner. A book like this is rare. The writing is too good to miss, the people in the book are too deeply interesting not to spend time with, and the food is too lusty not to revel in the indulgence. It's not a perfect book — the recipes work, though some of them are a little less polished than the prose used to write them — but it's an exciting book, an inspiration and a bright star for other talented cooks and writers to follow.

And the winner is…

The Art of Living According to Joe Beef: A Cookbook of Sorts

The Art of Living According to Joe Beef: A Cookbook of Sorts

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Do you Agree?


Burnt O. January 30, 2012
I can see Jeni's book as a truly wonderful reference guide delving into a specific food realm, but it is too esoteric to attract my attention on a routine basis at home. The same argument might also be made for Joe Beef, but I'm far more likely to try bold versions of meatballs, scallops with hollandaise, and cardamom banana bread, than flavors of ice cream. I eat ice cream on such a rare occasion, that I am more than happy to spend $$ on high quality, gourmet, exotically flavored ice cream and truly enjoy it, than try making it at home. Am really enjoying the writing in Piglet. It's quite thought provoking. Thanks Food52!
Kitchen B. January 30, 2012
From a terrified mum of three with an ice cream maker: Oh Josh, thank you. I can see the future/my kids may never forgive me....if I don't acquire Jeni's book! And all this talk of salted caramel ice cream is ruining my healthy living plans!

I'm LOVING the Piglet as a 'getting to know the cookbooks' of the year. Thanks food52
Muse January 29, 2012
Jeni's Ice Cream is the best in the country as far as I am concerned...her imaginative use of flavors and ingrediants is simply amazing! If you haven't had the priviledge to taste her ice creams, frozen yogurts and sorbets you can order them online...once you taste them you will be hopelessly addicted as I am!
bluegoldfinch January 25, 2012
I'm really hoping Jeni's comes back in the Wildcard round. ;)

But I adore her ice cream and her book. All of her recipes are very simple compared to the tempering eggs process, plus the lack of yolks leads to a cleaner taste. Also, no egg whites left around to use up!
gluttonforlife January 25, 2012
NOOOOOO! How could Jeni's not win?? It's the best thing that ever happened to ice cream! But Josh and Dorie are so convincing. I am ordering Joe Beef right this second. Whimper. Sniffle.
mcs3000 January 24, 2012
Basically, I think Dorie Greenspan walks on water. Loved Dorie's and Josh's review.
cookinginvictoria January 24, 2012
Joe Beef is a wonderful book. So glad to see a Canadian cookbook advancing to the next round in the Piglet! But Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams At Home also looks like a must-have. I look forward to reading it and making some of her delicious sounding recipes. We are an ice cream loving family. The Greenspans did an excellent job evaluating both of these excellent cookbooks -- it must have been so hard to pick a winner. Well done!
cookinginvictoria January 24, 2012
Joe Beef is a wonderful book. So glad to see a Canadian cookbook advancing to the next round in the Piglet! But Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams At Home also looks like a must-have. I look forward to reading it and making some of her delicious sounding recipes. We are an ice cream loving family. The Greenspans did an excellent job evaluating both of these excellent cookbooks -- it must have been so hard to pick a winner. Well done!
witloof January 24, 2012
I haven't seen the Joe Beef book but I can vouch for the fabulousness that is Jeni's. I made her Salty Caramel ice cream to serve at a holiday dinner and it was stupendous, with a flavor and texture that rivaled the fanciest gelaterias in Manhattan at a fraction of the cost. It was also fairly easy to put together. I'll never buy ice cream again!
Alexandra H. January 24, 2012
Wonderful review by Dorie and Josh!

Ummph... Piglet, this was the most difficult round by far. I L-O-V-E both of these books! I don't envy having to choose a winner from such qualified and lovley books! I even bought two copies of Jeni's Ice Cream: one to get messy in the kitchen and one copy just for bedtime reading!

P.S. My best friend is an obsessed ice-cream-maker. In over ten years of experimentation, he never achieved PERFECT ice cream texture (every time!) until he tried Jeni's base recipe- it revolutionized his weekend ice creams!
Omnivore B. January 24, 2012
Wow; I applaud these two for picking the non-baking/dessert book, and it doesn't sound like an easy choice. I think personal cookbooks like Joe Beef and Mission Street Food are the wave of the future. Or at least the next two years, until a new wave breaks.
Hilarybee January 24, 2012
I've been a long time fan of Jeni's Ice cream since my days at Ohio State. My apartment was behind the flagship store on Grandview avenue. It took all my will power not to go there everyday. I considered Jeni to be like Bono or Bowie. A true rockstar with a bold vision made of ice cream. When I saw her scooping in the shop, I wanted to be her.

Joe Beef sounds like he and Jeni have a lot in common. I will definitely be buying it! (I already two copies of Jeni's)
Bevi January 24, 2012
I own Jeni's cookbook and I love it. Her recipes are inspired and she makes it easy for a user to change up the flavorings. But I hear so much about Joe Beef, and recently watched a hilarious Tony Bourdain "Layover" episode that featured these guys.
DJ C. January 24, 2012
i would never have considered buying a book about making ice cream .... until I read this review. Now I'm sitting here daydreaming about the flavor of the week and becoming the favorite grandparent in the family. These two should be in marketing... they have a gift for making people think they can't live without something they never even thought about having.
Victoria C. January 24, 2012
I have both these books. They are both wonderful, and I think pitting them against one another is a task from the devil's workshop. Who could really choose between them? Not I.

I have a friend I occasionally send cookbooks to when I find something that is fantastic. I sent him Jeni right after I got my own copy and Joe Beef for Christmas.

I say this one is a tie.
mrslarkin January 24, 2012
I've been waiting for Team Greenspan all month! Well done, guys. Looking forward to reading both of these winning cookbooks, but especially Joe Beef.
LaRubia January 24, 2012
I adore the Joe Beef cookbook! We were in Montreal in September and ate a most memorable meal at Joe Beef. The cookbook captures the essence of the experience to a T. I can't think of another restaurant cookbook that does that - and I have my share of them.
LaRubia January 24, 2012
I adore the Joe Beef cookbook! We were in Montreal in September and ate a most memorable meal at Joe Beef. The cookbook captures the essence of the experience to a T. I can't think of another restaurant cookbook that does that - and I have my share of them.
Stephanie Q. January 24, 2012
Joe Beef is one of the best books to come out in years. A must-have!