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Exploring A Cookbook: Ad Hoc At Home by Thomas Keller

Exploring A Cookbook: Ad Hoc At Home by Thomas Keller
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  • Exploring A Cookbook: Ad Hoc At Home by Thomas Keller

    Post #1 - January 11th, 2010, 12:48 pm
    Post #1 - January 11th, 2010, 12:48 pm Post #1 - January 11th, 2010, 12:48 pm
    Ad Hoc At Home

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    Like a lot of lucky people, I received a copy of Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc At Home cookbook for Christmas. My initial impression was that the Ad Hoc cookbook would be the casual sibling to Mr. Keller’s prior two cookbooks, the gastronomy tome, The French Laundry, and the French bistro-food authority, Bouchon. The cover gives credence to this notion where it states, “Family-Style Recipes.“ I don’t own the French Laundry cookbook, but have cooked through Bouchon, so I am very much familiar with Keller’s obsessive, compulsive disorder of cooking. But, Ad Hoc is comfort food! Even Keller has to kick back now and then. Right?

    At first glance, I noticed there there’s a certain incongruity between the casual tone of the cookbook and the pictures of elegantly-plated food. But the introduction lulled me into complacency as Keller says, “No immersion circulator required. No complicated garnishes. I promise!” “This is the food I love to sit down to with my family and friends.” “The pace of life today is so quick . . .” “. . . recipes that are doable at home.” Keller is portrayed throughout as culinary mentor, posing in front of chalkboards, and doling out nuggets of information (called “light bulb moments“). There is a certain campiness to Ad Hoc, which makes the book seem light and playful.

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    But upon closer inspection, the pictures of Professor Keller take on a dark turn, with Keller’s eyes betraying a dead seriousness much like a boot camp sergeant who is about to order you to run 10 miles and climb a mountain, all the while barking in your face. You don’t know if he’s going to offer you the apple, or throw it at you:

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    The section entitled “Lifesavers,” which includes condiments that Keller deems necessary, also revealed (to me) a certain culinary upper-echelon seriousness. Taking the title with its intended metaphorical meaning, only Thomas Keller would see an apple-beet chutney as a “lifesaver.” Look closely, too, at the pictures of the food, beautifully garnished and plated, and as such, run afoul of the nurturing and rustic style normally associated with comfort food. If the pictures tell anything, how am I supposed to execute this elegant but supposedly homey food without being chained to my stove and shackled to my cutting board for hours?

    * * *
    Ad Hoc Chicken Soup With Dumplings

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    The weather outside is frightfully cold, so I thought I would start with something basic -- Chicken Soup with Dumplings -- to gauge what magic Monsieur Keller can work on a simple dish like chicken soup. The recipe starts with Keller’s stock. There are as many ways to make stock as there are to roast a chicken. Every cook aims for the same goal, but has a few small tweaks in the process along the way. Fortunately, I was already familiar with - and, in fact, a devotee of -- Keller’s method of stock-making from the Bouchon cookbook. Keller has you start by simmering only the meat, and after skimming for a good 40-50 minutes, you add 2 quarts of ice to further clarify the stock (the impurities cling to the ice, which you then fish out). Indeed, Keller is a maniac about the clarity of stock. If you make a Keller stock, you WILL be standing over a pot, skimming the entire time, meticulously searching for and removing every errant bit of foam, as Mr. Keller‘s voice in your head says over and over again, “skim, skim, skim.”

    Not including the time it took me to make the stock, it took 2 1/2 hours to get this soup to the table. This is NOT the casual, breezy fare that Keller seems to imply it is. This cookbook is comfort food, but executed as only a maniac for perfection like Keller can.

    For example, this stock runs through 2 separate incarnations before it’s soup-ready.

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    First, you take your stock, which you made after closely adhering to Herr Keller’s edicts about skimming, and add to it a fresh wave of cut-up vegetables (carrots, leeks, onions and celery).

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    After simmering for 35 minutes, you strain the stock and discard the aforementioned $7 bucks worth of veggies.

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    While the stock is simmering, you make the dumplings.

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    This was the easiest part of the process -- and the most satisfying. The dumplings are made with a pâte à choux dough, so briefly, you add flour to a pot of simmering water and butter, stir to form a dough; and then, after further stirring the moisture out of the dough (which is now in ball form), you add it to a Kitchen Aid and add two eggs, one at a time, with a teaspoon of Dijon mustard and salt. (You could also add chives, but I didn’t have any on hand.) After forming them into quenelles with two soup spoons, you drop them into simmering water to cook for five minutes. The end result was a tender, but sturdy concoction with just a hint of mustard. Fantastic.

    Back to the stock. After you strained out the vegetables, you add the stock back to the pot, and stir in a roux (which you managed to somehow make, in between chopping all the vegetables and making the dumplings). Let it simmer for another 30 minutes.

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    In the meantime, chop up some more celery and carrots. Here’s where the recipe gets more maniacal. What do you think you do with the celery and carrots? Drop then in the pot with the stock to simmer until tender? NO, you slacker. You get out a pot and an ice bath, because you are blanching the celery (in water salted so that it “tastes like the ocean“) and then putting it in an ice bath to cool. Now, take the carrots, and put them in a saucepan with cold water to cover, along with bay leaf, a teaspoon of honey, thyme, salt, pepper and an unpeeled clove of garlic:

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    So, contrary to Keller’s promise in the introduction, you are in fact making complicated garnishes (heck, side dishes, even).

    While this is all happening, Keller tells to you go back to the dumplings (which have now cooled) and TAKE SCISSORS TO TRIM OFF ANY UNEVEN EDGES. Say what? What Mom or Grandma making a chicken and dumpling soup would do that? Like a fool, I get out the kitchen scissors and do it, and boy was I glad, as the trimmings were a welcome snack. During the hours it took me to make this soup, I had gotten pretty hungry.

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    After you‘re done with the side dishes, I mean, garnishes, and the stock has finished simmering for another 30 minutes, you assemble the individual parts (including the chicken, which you’ve roasted beforehand) and garnish with parsley and chives.

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    What was the end result? Nothing short of divine. The nicely clarified and balanced chicken- and vegetable-flavored broth was brightened by the additional simmer with fresh vegetables; the mustard dumplings added both texture, heft as well as slight acidity, and the extra carrots and celery were tender but still firm -- and tasted good in their own right, thanks to separate blanching. Tiny, elegant globules of fat on the surface of the soup and the clarity to even the roux-thickened stock were proof that the soup was not only homemade, but not made by a ham-hand in the kitchen. In other words, it's not your Grandma's soup. I could see this soup being served in a fancy restaurant -- say, Ad Hoc. Nevertheless, it hit the same comfort notes that any good chicken soup should.

    My statements above are not meant to imply that cooking from Ad Hoc is above the capabilities of the average home cook. But, surely, there are easier ways to get a chicken soup to the table.

    Was is worth the effort? Yes, but make no mistake: This “basic” recipe in Ad Hoc is no breezy weeknight comfort food. Clear out an afternoon, though, and you’ll have a special bowl of soup.

    I looking forward to trying more recipes, time-permitting.
    Last edited by aschie30 on January 11th, 2010, 12:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.
  • Post #2 - January 11th, 2010, 12:58 pm
    Post #2 - January 11th, 2010, 12:58 pm Post #2 - January 11th, 2010, 12:58 pm
    looking forward to your further posts... i also have the book and enjoyed reading it, but haven't dared tried any of the recipes yet.
  • Post #3 - January 11th, 2010, 1:22 pm
    Post #3 - January 11th, 2010, 1:22 pm Post #3 - January 11th, 2010, 1:22 pm
    I'm waiting for the book to come in off of back order and your description was a good teaser! I'm actually glad it's on the "challenging" side--it looked like a lot of fun just to read through and I don't mind spending an afternoon here and there on a good cooking project. Maybe we need to start an LTH cooking support group for Ad Hoc disciples! I'm happy to host!
    "Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad." Miles Kington
  • Post #4 - January 11th, 2010, 6:38 pm
    Post #4 - January 11th, 2010, 6:38 pm Post #4 - January 11th, 2010, 6:38 pm
    What a wonderful post!

    I also have the book (so physically beautiful - and the photo you posted of him with the spoons cracks me up) - but have not previously owned/read any cookbook by Keller.

    The recipes seem, as you say, to be for the preparation of "not your grandma's [food]." As a rather novice, but uber motivated/curious/excited cook, this book affords me the opportunity to learn while making nice, reasonable food that I can serve to myself at home (without feeling ridiculous) or friends or family. The exercise is good for me - and I enjoy the process (when I have time - like you say)!

    I made the Honey Glazed Cippolini Onions yesterday (doubled the recipe though because 14 tiny onions in my pan seemed lonely) and they weren't hard at all (though I totally made myself late to a party). The end product didn't seem super impressive to me (yummy, but just a bunch of lil' onions in glaze), but I took them to a birthday party and they were actually very exciting to a few food-lover/cook types. Proud moment :). "Ooh, try these! They melt in your mouth! Is that honey?" Etc.

    I too look forward to reading more ad hoc recipe endeavors!

    :)
    " . . . that makes me the ham!"
  • Post #5 - January 11th, 2010, 7:23 pm
    Post #5 - January 11th, 2010, 7:23 pm Post #5 - January 11th, 2010, 7:23 pm
    Very nice post in the manner of julie and julia. Alas, in this version, you need a couple of years to work through the cookbook. Maybe we need a collaborative effort, perhaps Ad Hoc at Home(s).

    Thanks for taking the time. Looking forward to more.

    -Jay
  • Post #6 - January 11th, 2010, 7:44 pm
    Post #6 - January 11th, 2010, 7:44 pm Post #6 - January 11th, 2010, 7:44 pm
    Great first post in this thread, Aschie. You've made it clear that Keller is the true successor to one of my kitchen inspirations.
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  • Post #7 - January 11th, 2010, 7:49 pm
    Post #7 - January 11th, 2010, 7:49 pm Post #7 - January 11th, 2010, 7:49 pm
    Great thread. The only thing I've made from the book so far is Keller's polenta, which crams as much cream in there as it can possibly hold. I made mine with half-and-half and it was bordering on richer than I could handle. Your soup looks well worth the effort!
  • Post #8 - January 11th, 2010, 8:48 pm
    Post #8 - January 11th, 2010, 8:48 pm Post #8 - January 11th, 2010, 8:48 pm
    Oh, yeah! Great work. (and I got a copy for the holidays, too, so I'm excited to see what everyone else is cooking from it)
  • Post #9 - January 12th, 2010, 8:53 pm
    Post #9 - January 12th, 2010, 8:53 pm Post #9 - January 12th, 2010, 8:53 pm
    aschie30 wrote:You don’t know if he’s going to offer you the apple, or throw it at you:

    Enjoyable post and the soup looks delicious. Nice idea adding Dijon to the dumplings, made a mental note for next time I make dumplings.

    Enjoy,
    Gary
    One minute to Wapner.
    Raymond Babbitt

    Low & Slow
  • Post #10 - January 12th, 2010, 8:55 pm
    Post #10 - January 12th, 2010, 8:55 pm Post #10 - January 12th, 2010, 8:55 pm
    I too received this cookbook as a Christmas gift and have recently cooked three recipes, The Chicken Pot Pie, The Roasted Chicken and Root Vegetables, and the Buttermilk Fried Chicken.

    Overall the recipes were quite feasible with a reasonable amount of time and planning but the effort is definitely worth the results. All of the recipes turned out great, especially the fried chicken, which called for a 12 hour brine. The meat turned out to be some of the most flavorful and moist I have ever tasted with fried chicken, as the honey, lemon and thyme from the brine really came through. Additionally, Keller's beautiful illustrations of butchering the chicken were helpful as well.

    I look forward to hearing about and trying more recipes from this cookbook as it has yet to disappoint.

    Keith
  • Post #11 - January 13th, 2010, 4:03 pm
    Post #11 - January 13th, 2010, 4:03 pm Post #11 - January 13th, 2010, 4:03 pm
    Count me among the recipients of this book as a holiday gift--and what a great gift it was.

    Made the roast chicken with root vegetables and despite being a towering mediocrity as a cook, it came out awfully good. Tonight I'm making the carmelized scallops cooked in clarified butter. Seems not too daunting. Undoutedly I'll make hockey pucks.

    And but so, the whole reason I came to want this book was because of an Esquire article in which the author of the piece, and his brother, cooked a multi-course dinner party menu from the book . They invited Keller. And he showed up.

    "Thomas Keller, the greatest chef in the world, owner of restaurants including the French Laundry in Napa and Per Se in New York, which are always listed among the top five in the world, is supposed to be here in ten minutes. In Mike's apartment, with the windowless kitchen the size of a flight attendants' coffee station, for dinner. We're cooking for him. We're like a tribute band, and the real band is coming to see us perform.

    Read more: http://www.esquire.com/features/food-dr ... z0cX5M1aJh
  • Post #12 - January 13th, 2010, 5:07 pm
    Post #12 - January 13th, 2010, 5:07 pm Post #12 - January 13th, 2010, 5:07 pm
    That's a great article. Thanks for sharing.

    TC
  • Post #13 - February 12th, 2010, 9:10 pm
    Post #13 - February 12th, 2010, 9:10 pm Post #13 - February 12th, 2010, 9:10 pm
    Fig-stuffed roast pork tenderloin attempt number two. Dog locked outside :mrgreen: (Just kidding--don't call PETA).

    Success!!!

    As usual, I was unable to completely stick to the recipe but my modifications were fairly minor. Brined the pork according to instructions (brine made of honey, bay leave, rosemary, thyme (both fresh), italian parsley, garlic, peppercorns, kosher salt and H2O)--about 3.5 hours. Quite honestly, it was a bit salty (my BF who adds salt to EVERYTHING, much to my chagrin, did not add salt to the plated dish and actually said he thought it was a bit salty.) Didn't take away from the dish but I think I might try to work on that next time. But loved the juiciness and even the texture of the meat with the brining. And the garlic, thyme and rosemary were definitely detectable.

    The stuffing--here's where I diverged a bit. The recipe called for cubed bread, fennel, shallots and garlic to be sauteed in oil then mixed with Fig Balsamic jam (another recipe!), chicken stock, thyme S&P then cooled completely. Here's where I ran into a problem (and why you have to commit a pretty full day to Ad Hoc endeavors). I knew I wasn't going to have time to cool that stuffing since we were done brining at 8:30 p.m. with pan browning and roasting and resting still to go. Not to mention I was fresh out of homemade Fig Balsamic jam darn it...

    So I cheated :twisted: I skipped making the Fig Balsamic Jam. I chose not to saute anything. Instead I riffed on the idea and combined plain fig jam (which I actually did have), good balsamic, fresh thyme, feta cheese crumbles and some panko bread crumbs, seasoned with a bit of S&P and stuffed away. Then seasoned the loin with S&P (next time would probably skip the "S" given what I know now about the brine) and used TK's "lightbulb moment" :roll: method of browning (moving the meat to different spots in the pan when you turn it!)

    Once browned, popped in the oven atop and surrounded by some sliced yukon potatoes, fennel (didn't leave it out altogether) and sweet onions at 350 for about 40 minutes (internal temp 130), let it rest for about 20 minutes (BF was driving me nuts--the recipe called for a 30 minute rest--ain't no way I was going to hold him off any longer) but it was PERFECT. Juicy (no juice ran when I cut--love that!) Fork tender. So flavorful. While the meat was resting, turned up the heat a bit on the veggies so by the time the meat was ready the veggies were gorgeously carmelized.

    I SWEAR I'm going to take a Saturday and really follow an Ad Hoc recipe from start to finish with all homemade ingredients included. Even so, this was a GREAT meal and fun to make. I highly recommend this book (hard to even call it a cookbook--it's more like a "gourmet manual".)

    And i think this would be a terrific "group" activity if anyone was so inclined.
    "Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad." Miles Kington
  • Post #14 - February 12th, 2010, 9:57 pm
    Post #14 - February 12th, 2010, 9:57 pm Post #14 - February 12th, 2010, 9:57 pm
    I got an Amazon GC, and ordered this book. It's on backorder, but am looking forward to it!
    Leek

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  • Post #15 - February 12th, 2010, 10:13 pm
    Post #15 - February 12th, 2010, 10:13 pm Post #15 - February 12th, 2010, 10:13 pm
    leek wrote:I got an Amazon GC, and ordered this book. It's on backorder, but am looking forward to it!


    Mine came in weeks before it was supposed to--hope you have similar luck. :D
    "Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad." Miles Kington
  • Post #16 - February 13th, 2010, 10:58 am
    Post #16 - February 13th, 2010, 10:58 am Post #16 - February 13th, 2010, 10:58 am
    I too was a recipient of this book for Christmas. I was lucky enough to get a signed copy from my brother-in law and his girlfriend. What a wonderful book this is. I love the idea for the restaurant, Ad Hoc, from which the book is based. There is a great section in the middle that describes the creative process that went into opening Ad Hoc.

    I do have a different impression of the book than aschie30. I feel like this is home cooking, through and through from Keller's perspective. He is coming at this with a level of refinement and true french technique that many home cooks may not possess. But I think that is the whole point. The idea is that the dishes we are so used to cooking can be taken to another level while keeping their home cooked heart and soul. I think that is pretty cool. It seems to be following a trend of empowering home chefs with better resources and knowledge and not talking down to them but giving them confidence. Not to say that "the cookbook" in general hasn't strived to do this all along, but to say that the home chef's game has perhaps been elevated? And this book seeks to elevate it even more with less obvious refinements. I hope I am not stating the obvious here, just thought I would lend a different viewpoint.

    Great pictures with what looks to be like an amazing outcome! Thanks for a great post.

    mlit
    "A bean without pork is like an orphaned child" -- Anthony Bourdain
  • Post #17 - February 16th, 2010, 9:58 pm
    Post #17 - February 16th, 2010, 9:58 pm Post #17 - February 16th, 2010, 9:58 pm
    I must admit that I was a little intimidated by the book based on posts here. I picked up the book this week with a gift card I had received over the holidays.

    I always considered my mom a good country cook. But, not a particularly sophisticated cook.

    Imagine my surprise when I saw that Keller's fried chicken method (the double dip in flour and buttermilk) is the exact same way that she taught me to do it years ago.

    I would tell her that Thomas Keller fries chicken the same way that she does. But, she wouldn't know who Thomas Keller is.

    There appear to be some fairly simple recipes that are indeed friendly to the home cook. I can hardly put the book down.
  • Post #18 - February 17th, 2010, 7:17 am
    Post #18 - February 17th, 2010, 7:17 am Post #18 - February 17th, 2010, 7:17 am
    I've pretty much made my peace with Thomas Keller since starting to regularly make his vegetable stock (as described here). I accept that he is the world's worst home economist, always urging you to toss away things that frugal housewives would carefully hoard and use to their last bit of life. I accept that he is more particular than I will ever be about straining and clarifying, and that he will always add a step of work if there is the teeniest bit of value to be gained from it. So I make his vegetable stock the way he makes it, and strain out my pricey leeks and fennel after 45 minutes like he says to, and then when he's left the room, I simmer the vegetables some more and get from them the flavor he would have left behind, because it wasn't quite pristine and clear enough for him, and then I have two vegetable stocks— a beautiful clear-tasting Keller one for delicate soups, and a slightly down-and-dirtier one for not so delicate ones, and each jar of vegetable stock cost me a buck or two, not three bucks or four. Everybody's happy.

    Well, until Keller came out with what was supposed to be his casual home cooking cookbook, Ad Hoc at Home. Somehow, not remembering my failed attempts to cook out of The French Laundry Cookbook, I convinced myself that it was not only a cookbook I wanted to have, but it would be a worthy Christmas gift for my sister, who's a fine cook but let's just say about 10,000 times less hyper about food than I am.

    I snapped back to reality when Aschie30 wrote the initial post in this thread about how difficult Keller makes the act of making something as simple and homey as chicken and dumplings. True, she finally decides that all the extra work was worth it, but in the process she certainly puts the lie to Keller's opening claims that this is the casual food "I love to sit down to with my family and friends.” Charlie Trotter successfully put away the chive shears and managed to produce a book of modestly-scaled recipes which achieve his cuisine's baseline virtues without a staff of 20, but Keller has not. I mean, this is a book which devotes an entire oversized spread to making your own soup crackers. Keller writes a book for casual home cooking like Wagner would have written one on musical entertaining at home.

    At the risk of discovering that the main thing I'd strained was my family's patience, I decided to have an all-Thomas Keller Valentine's Day dinner, and thus settle the question in my mind: does Keller's perfectionist approach to casual cuisine yield benefits worth sweating for, or is he freakin' nuts? (It would have been an all-Ad Hoc at Home dinner, but I finally decided I liked the sound of a dessert from The French Laundry Cookbook better.)  But in any case it involved four main recipes from Ad Hoc, plus two additional recipes which produced something to be used in one of the main recipes; plus four separate recipes to produce the parts which would come together to make the dessert.

    Braised Beef Short Ribs (p. 41-2)

    I settled on short ribs because I figured a braise would give me some leeway to handle the extra steps in whatever other dishes I made— and because it seemed like something I could buy happily from the grassfed beef guy selling at the Logan Square Farmer's Market.  I know all the reasons why I'm supposed to eat grassfed beef, but it's just too harsh for my taste eaten in straightforward form (like a steak).  A nice braise though, lots of wine and aromatic vegetables, that's where the stronger flavor of grassfed beef would work for me, I figured; and so I was eager to experiment with something like short ribs.  The pieces I got were certainly gorgeous looking:

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    Meanwhile, I spent about an hour making a wine glaze using Keller's usual assortment of vegetables (onion, carrots, leeks, no celery) plus thyme.  Heedless of cost as usual, he says to use an entire bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon or other red wine; I finished off three leftover opened bottles of random red (two shiraz, one merlot), saving at least $10 right there:

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    And in typical Keller fashion, given his belief that vegetables have given up most of their flavor by the 45-minute mark, this is just the first of two sets of nearly identical vegetables and spices that you add to the braising liquid— throwing both away at the end.  Nonsense, said I, and so I rescued the second set of carrots at the end and served them alongside the meat.  They were fine, you should try them sometime, Tom!

    Meanwhile, I browned the short ribs, and then, because Keller is so horrified by the prospect that meat might wind up with a little piece of limp parsley adhering to it, you're supposed to wrap the meat in a shroud of cheesecloth and bury it in the liquid.   I did that, then cut out the little parchment paper doily that is another of Keller's signatures, and put this in the oven to braise for a couple of hours.

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    As it did I prepared:

    Puree of Garlic Potatoes, p. 223

    I wondered how much Keller would gild the lily of something as straightforward as garlic mashed potatoes, a dish whose entire recipe is basically in its name.  He did so in two ways.  First, his method of adding garlic flavor was to make:

    Garlic Confit and Oil, p. 266

    Put some garlic cloves in a pan, cover with half a bottle of canola oil, poach in the oil until they're soft and gooey.  The two bucks' worth of canola oil seemed profligate— though I suppose it could be used later in something— but the resulting garlic was really nice and mellow, subtle once it was mixed into the potatoes.  And not much work, really, for a Keller extra step.  I would do this again, certainly.

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    The other was to have me cook the potatoes by dropping them, whole, into cold, heavily salted water, then bringing them to a simmer, then peeling them hot.  What does this add compared to peeling them with a peeler and cooking them skinless?  Not much that I could tell.  (I guess you could argue that it's actually less work to peel them this way, but only if you have titanium fingers and don't mind peeling something boiling hot.)

    Brioche, p. 272

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    I hadn't planned on making anything from his book breadwise, but then I spotted the brioche recipe, which is actually rather easy (if you have a Kitchenaid mixer) and though the quantity it makes is fairly huge, I knew there would be another use I could make of much of it, which I'll post about separately.  So I used some of it to bake round brioches in a muffin tin.  The kids loved the buttery bread.

    Little Gem Lettuce Salad, p. 142-3
    with Honey Vinaigrette, p. 143


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    One of the things that I came to find frustrating about looking through the book was that Keller would often be quite specific about the fruits or vegetables he wanted you to use— for instance, this salad requires Little Gem lettuce, Ruby Red grapefruit, blood oranges (at least he didn't specify Sanguinellos over Moros), Satsuma oranges and a pomegranate.  Well, that's fine and dandy if you're Thomas Keller and can basically get your hands on anything with a phone call, but here I am in a major city and the closest I came at my local Whole Foods was a Rio Star grapefruit (at least I knew that would be similarly sweet), blood oranges, no pomegranates (but I finally found a lone box of pomegranate pips), and some tangerines (actually, I later realized that WF had a small bunch of Satsumas, when I remembered what they were— the little oranges with dark green leaves— but the sign for them was missing).  As for the lettuce, only because of a passing reference to Little Gem being like butter lettuce was I able to find something that would substitute reasonably well— I assume.

    This is annoying not only because it's unrealistic, to think that the shopper even in a major city will be able to find all of these things at once, but because you can't believe it's how Keller would really assemble a dish— he'd see what was available and adjust accordingly, making things a little more sweet or tart based on what he could find.  And even the slightest clues as to how to do that myself would be of far more use than telling me that I have to find some specific lettuce variety that may be easy to have trucked over to your restaurant in Napa, but which I've never seen in my life.

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    That complaint registered... this is a fantastic salad.  Maybe I just lucked out and despite having the wrong grapefruit, the wrong tangerine, etc., the balance was pretty much perfect anyway, but the sunny juiciness of the fruit and the tart note of the vinaigrette and the tenderness of the lettuce— just wonderful, especially at this time of year.  Even my sons, whose ideas about salad are pretty much that they like ranch dressing and NOTHING ELSE, gobbled it up.  This will undoubtedly be a keeper... and I will undoubtedly evolve its mix of flavors depending on what I find in the store from one time to the next.

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    Meanwhile the meat seemed tender— well, the middle parts seemed tender; the upper stripe of meat was either over or undercooked, I frankly couldn't tell with this grassfed meat— and so it went into a pan in the oven while I reduced much of the sauce to a glaze.

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    So the grass-fed beef: good rich flavor, I need more experience braising it to really know how to do it right, but on the whole I was happy with it this way. That said, I can't say that I particularly thought all the little Keller touches— making the wine glaze first, then the braising liquid with stock, putting the doily on top, etc.— added up to much, I made just as nice a short ribs braise from The Balthazar Cookbook with less fuss.  So final score for dinner from Ad Hoc at Home: salad great, brioche fine, potatoes worth the effort of making the garlic confit if not the pain of peeling unskinned, boiled potatoes, braised shortribs fine but no great difference from anybody else's recipe for a dish like that.

    Then came dessert from The French Laundry Cookbook:

    Velouté of Bittersweet Chocolate with Cinnamon Stick Ice Cream (p. 286-7)
    with Chocolate Sauce (p.280)


    Image

    This was a satisfying recipe first of all because you could methodically prepare its parts over the preceding week without the stress of a last minute rush to get it made.  The velouté is sort of somewhere between a mousse and a meringue, and you make it in plastic wrap inside a ramekin or other round object and freeze it.  The ice cream you see underneath it below is cinnamon ice cream, made by steeping a stick in your custard; it's subtle, almost ethereally cinnamony.  The flat disc is a cinnamon cookie, which you par-bake a day or two before.  At the bottom is a basic chocolate sauce.  When the time comes you bake the veloute on top of the cookie until it's got an outer skin and a gooey inside, then assemble it quickly.

    Image

    This is another great recipe, an easy way to wow your crowd; it looks complex but really it's no harder to put together than a cheeseburger.  Ironically, I don't think a recipe like this would have made it into Ad Hoc at Home, it's too restaurant-showy, yet designed as it is for efficient production in a busy kitchen, it's actually easier, and even more practical perhaps, for the home cook than many of the recipes in Ad Hoc at Home which take something simple and then fuss and fret it into a lot of extra work.

    So where did I come out of all this on the subject of Thomas Keller?  I think there's a lot of value in going through his overelaborated ways of making things, because it forces you to think about what goes into your dish, where extra efforts are worth it and where shortcuts are shortchanging you.  I think you will often decide that Keller is overdoing it for not enough return— but not always; here and there his way of doing it really is a better way, a way that takes an old familiar dish to the next level.  In a world where most cookbooks promise ease, there's something to said for the master who challenges you to try harder and do more.  You may not always like his book, but you will learn a lot from it— including what matters more to you in the kitchen, time or perfection.
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  • Post #19 - February 17th, 2010, 7:42 am
    Post #19 - February 17th, 2010, 7:42 am Post #19 - February 17th, 2010, 7:42 am
    I too got the book for x-mass and have made the chicken with root veggies and this potato dish
    Image
    Lots of precise cutting and layering but well worth it for the final result.
  • Post #20 - February 17th, 2010, 8:07 am
    Post #20 - February 17th, 2010, 8:07 am Post #20 - February 17th, 2010, 8:07 am
    Mike G,

    That is a great post. The way you describe your quest for the right ingredients sort of reminds me of the woman who did everyting Oprah said to do for a year because...well it was Oprah. :wink: One note: They are not pomegranate pips. They are pomegranate arils.
    Steve Z.

    “Only the pure in heart can make a good soup.”
    ― Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Post #21 - February 17th, 2010, 12:57 pm
    Post #21 - February 17th, 2010, 12:57 pm Post #21 - February 17th, 2010, 12:57 pm
    Mike G, I agree - great post. I took the book out of the library when it came out to test drive it. As always, I was amazed at the bazillion steps he always has, but to your point I'm not a fan enough to buy the book, but I do learn alot from him!

    Steve LOLOL
    SAVING ONE DOG MAY NOT CHANGE THE WORLD, BUT IT CHANGES THE WORLD FOR THAT ONE DOG.
  • Post #22 - February 17th, 2010, 6:25 pm
    Post #22 - February 17th, 2010, 6:25 pm Post #22 - February 17th, 2010, 6:25 pm
    Mike G -

    Awesome write-up as usual. I'm considering making it for the mother-in-law this weekend.

    I see you used short ribs with the bone in. Did you even try to find a boneless short rib, much less in one large piece? I've struck out at Whole Foods since they cut very little, if anything, in house. I tried Paulina but I think I was getting a raw deal - I think they wanted an extra $4-5/lb for it. It was a while ago so I'll try again when they're open.

    I actually looked for boneless short rib when trying Cooks Illustrated's recipe and I have to admit, using boneless results in much less fat and eliminates the extra, almost required step, of letting the meat sit overnight so the fat hardens enough to remove.

    Thanks,
    Jay
  • Post #23 - February 17th, 2010, 6:26 pm
    Post #23 - February 17th, 2010, 6:26 pm Post #23 - February 17th, 2010, 6:26 pm
    mhill95149 wrote:I too got the book for x-mass and have made the chicken with root veggies and this potato dish
    Image
    Lots of precise cutting and layering but well worth it for the final result.


    mhill95149,

    What pan did you use. I was actually dismayed that I couldn't find a pan nearly anywhere near the dimensions this recipe called for. You don't think 3" is deep until you start actually measuring pans.
  • Post #24 - February 17th, 2010, 7:45 pm
    Post #24 - February 17th, 2010, 7:45 pm Post #24 - February 17th, 2010, 7:45 pm
    I see you used short ribs with the bone in. Did you even try to find a boneless short rib, much less in one large piece?


    No, the ones I got from the farmer's market were bone in, that was my only choice. I could have boned them myself, but I figure, why give up that flavor? Just as a general principle, I pretty much believe if you can cook with a bone, you should.
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  • Post #25 - February 19th, 2010, 10:05 am
    Post #25 - February 19th, 2010, 10:05 am Post #25 - February 19th, 2010, 10:05 am
    I don't understand roux in chicken soup.......I don't care who the chef is.
  • Post #26 - April 21st, 2010, 2:45 pm
    Post #26 - April 21st, 2010, 2:45 pm Post #26 - April 21st, 2010, 2:45 pm
    Fascinating and amusing comparison of this book with The Pioneer Woman Cooks in Slate. The author made the same meal--fried chicken, mashed potatoes, salad, and pineapple upside down cake-- from both cookbooks.

    By the time the meal was on the table, I had gone through 36 cooking vessels over three days. That compares unfavorably with Drummond's demands of two days and 17 vessels.

    I was prepared to hold this against Keller until I tasted the chicken. The crust was crispy and light; the meat was firm and juicy, seasoned through to the bone. I looked around the table for confirmation that this here was some life-changing fried chicken.

    "This crust stays on better," Owen said, his life unchanged.

    "It's a thousand times better than Pioneer Woman's," I announced.

    "I wouldn't go that far," Mark said. "It's better, but fried chicken is fried chicken. And wasn't hers less work?"
  • Post #27 - May 10th, 2010, 9:14 am
    Post #27 - May 10th, 2010, 9:14 am Post #27 - May 10th, 2010, 9:14 am
    I hadn't planned to cook Mother's Day out of Keller, but finding myself in possession of various high-end, seasonal ingredients, it only made sense to crack open Ad Hoc at Home and see what he had to say on these subjects. Not surprisingly, I found something to do with all of them in its pages. More surprisingly, every one of the recipes was simply an example of good technique, not crazily overelaborate, not requiring that I use three sets of vegetables, not dirtying 38 pans. They were, believe it or not, Keller actually being quick and easy. So, is such a thing possible, or is Keller without absurd effort no longer Keller? Here's the verdict:

    First, I bought some morels at the Evanston Farmer's Market. I knew that basically, the only thing to do with morels is cook them in lots of butter flavored with a little something, nothing too exotic— nobody's making fire-roasted chipotle morels at these prices. Keller's recipe proves to be Morels With Madeira (p. 207), or in my case using what was at hand, Morels With Amontillado, basically butter with some shallots, thyme and the hooch. He assumes small morels, cooked whole, I had large morels so I cut them into good-sized pieces, and used them as an accompaniment to the even simpler Caramelized Sea Scallops (p. 88). The only Kellerian touch here is to brine the scallops (big sweet ones from Dirk's) for ten minutes; then it's just solid technique, cook 3 minutes on each side in clarified butter at high heat. I didn't get as perfect a browned outside as he does, but still, this was a great first course, even the kids tried two new things in categories (seafood and mushroom) they regard with suspicion and ate it all up happily. Total success.

    Image

    Main course started with a skirt steak from Heartland— gorgeous buttery meat. I wish I could say that Keller's Marinated Skirt Steak (p. 53) had realized all of its potential, but as promising as the marinade sounded— thyme, rosemary, peppercorns and garlic simmered in canola oil for a few minutes, then cooled, meat marinaded for about 5 hours— the meat initially came out a little bland, and needed more table seasoning than I expected. Maybe cut down the ratio of canola oil to seasonings next time (Keller uses canola oil for a lot of this stuff, convinced that olive oil has too low a smoking point, I believe).

    Image

    More successful were the Crisped Roasted Marble Potatoes (p. 224). Toss little potatoes in thyme and whole garlic, roast till tender, smoosh with your hand till the skin cracks, then crisp up in a frying pan with some butter when it's time to serve. Simple but very tasty, and a good dinner party recipe since you can do most of the cooking ahead and then quickly finish them alongside the meat.

    This has nothing to do with Keller, but they sure were pretty for dessert:

    Image

    So, on the whole a success, at least .750, though I did vaguely miss the challenge and learning of previous wildly overlaborate Keller recipes. I wasn't on the move for six hours making this dinner. The potatoes certainly will wind up in my repertoire, but the next time I crack Keller, it will be for a marathon, not a walk in the park, however pleasant.
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  • Post #28 - February 8th, 2011, 2:16 pm
    Post #28 - February 8th, 2011, 2:16 pm Post #28 - February 8th, 2011, 2:16 pm
    I just made the Chicken Pot Pie this past weekend.... pretty amazing stuff! I have to say, I'm a huge fan of Keller and his most recent book.

    Image
  • Post #29 - February 8th, 2011, 3:06 pm
    Post #29 - February 8th, 2011, 3:06 pm Post #29 - February 8th, 2011, 3:06 pm
    "Thomas Keller, the greatest chef in the world, owner of restaurants including the French Laundry in Napa and Per Se in New York, which are always listed among the top five in the world, is supposed to be here in ten minutes. In Mike's apartment, with the windowless kitchen the size of a flight attendants' coffee station, for dinner. We're cooking for him. We're like a tribute band, and the real band is coming to see us perform.

    Read more: http://www.esquire.com/features/food-dr ... z0cX5M1aJh

    this was a fascinating article, except for the part when keller taunts the writer to grab the scallops from the pan without the tongs, accusing him of acting 'like a girl' if he won't do it. jeez, what a jerk. justjoan
  • Post #30 - February 8th, 2011, 3:31 pm
    Post #30 - February 8th, 2011, 3:31 pm Post #30 - February 8th, 2011, 3:31 pm
    justjoan wrote:
    "Thomas Keller, the greatest chef in the world, owner of restaurants including the French Laundry in Napa and Per Se in New York, which are always listed among the top five in the world, is supposed to be here in ten minutes. In Mike's apartment, with the windowless kitchen the size of a flight attendants' coffee station, for dinner. We're cooking for him. We're like a tribute band, and the real band is coming to see us perform.

    Read more: http://www.esquire.com/features/food-dr ... z0cX5M1aJh

    this was a fascinating article, except for the part when keller taunts the writer to grab the scallops from the pan without the tongs, accusing him of acting 'like a girl' if he won't do it. jeez, what a jerk. justjoan


    I thought that was awesome. Gave you a little sense of what it would be like to work for him!

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