Thursday, October 29, 2009

Last Meal Article

If you haven't read this article in the New York Times about Keller, you are missing out. It is a nice piece about the kind of person Thomas Keller is and the powerful memories food can create.

As an added bonus, there are two recipes from Ad Hoc at Home: Sauteed Chicken Breasts With Tarragon and the Leek Bread Pudding (free registration required). I have heard from several sources that the leek bread pudding is the real deal.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Mushroom Soup with cavolo nero and yukon gold potatoes

Recipe number one!

Why this one? Cause I got awesome ingredients at the New Amsterdam Market that were a perfect fit for this recipe. I did it because that's what the ingredients told me to do - which is part of my goal here - to eat seasonally driven food. Look at this Hen of the Woods mushroom from Wild Gourmet. It was very, very fresh and had unbelievable flavor:

This recipe made use of three other embedded recipes: the sachet, the mushroom stock, and the garlic puree. I started with the mushroom stock. Remembering that I am cutting down recipes as need be, I only made a half recipe of the mushroom stock. I started by putting the leek greens, onion, carrot and button mushrooms in the food processor.

I promise that the Fresca in the photo is not mine. But I did have some. It was a crime of opportunity. You'd take a swig if it was that close to you...

I finely chopped the mushrooms and aromatics in the food processor and then added water:

This combination simmered for about 45 minutes while I prepared the other components like the garlic confit:

Once the cloves were softened and had cooled I put them through a tamis and ended up with garlic (confit) paste. Edit: The garlic puree is stirred into the mushroom broth in the final assembly. Because it is cooked slowly for a long time, there is not a lot of bite, just a nice, soft garlic note:

Next, I sauteed the Hen of the Woods mushroom in two batches:

I also "big pot" blanched the kale (cavolo nero) and cooking the potatoes with the sachet (you'll notice that I didn't take the time to wrap the sachet ingredients with cheesecloth - I didn't do it because the potato pieces were large enough to pick out cleanly for the finished dish). I will tell you that the potatoes cooked separately with the aromatics of the sachet were unreal on their own. So good.

Now that the individual components were ready, it was time to assemble the finished product.

One thing that is clear in this recipe is that each component is given the consideration necessary to be a contributing player in the final dish. The stock is layered with flavor (and gilded with the garlic puree), the final soup has leeks, onion and carrot for additional flavor (cooked under a parchment lid no less);

the potatoes are cooked separately and flavored by the sachet (additional layers of flavor), and the mushrooms are sauteed separately and seasoned separately to add even more complexity. This is not a one-pot-dish. It is a familiar dish (mushroom soup) with a complex flavor worth the extra effort. The final result? Awesome. Would I cook it again? Yes. Would I serve it to guests? You bet.

Confession: Okay, fine. I'll admit it (in the spirit of full disclosure). I forgot stuff. Rookie mistake. No need to yell. I forgot to hit my final dish with a little vinegar and olive oil. BUT, I did remember to do it for my lunch the next day and it made a HUGE difference - in a good way. The addition added to the layers of flavor - a nice bite from the vinegar and a nice richness/bite from the Extra Virgin Olive Oil. I just got so excited as I finished my first dish that I wanted to eat it. Right now. So I jumped the gun. I'll try not to do it again. But I probably will. Sorry.

Sources (I will provide the prices as available):
Hen of the Woods Mushroom from Wild Gourmet (via NA Market) - $32/lb
Button mushrooms, spanish onion, carrot, potatoes and kale from Wegmans
Leeks from Health Shoppe (via NA Market) $2.99/bunch

Edit 10/29/09 for clarity

Sunday, October 25, 2009

New Amsterdam Market

As I have made very clear in my Twitter posts, I was very much looking forward to the New Amsterdam Market today (10/25/09). As we approached the South Street Seaport, my wife and I could see tents, hear music and we could see TONS of people. I couldn't believe my eyes - I thought that the NAM was going to be small, not at all flashy, attended by guys and gals that were interested in sustainable farming practices and high quality ingredients, not a mass-appeal for all New Yorkers.

Turns out I was wrong.

Well, technically, I was right, the NAM was what I thought it would be; I just happened to stumble right into the middle of the Step Out Walk to Fight Diabetes. They had a stage, and music and booths everywhere - it was a very well-attended, worthwhile event. But they weren't selling oxtail - so I left and went looking for the NAM.

The market ended up being a few blocks down the road right in front of the Fulton Fish Market near the Brooklyn Bridge and it was exactly what I was hoping for: low-key vibe, great vendors, great products. Take a look:

(love the Brooklyn Bridge in the background)

Balthazar Bakery

The makings of a Porchetta sandwich

Cheese from Twin Maple Farm
Here is the take:

Skirt steak and oxtail from Fleisher's; duck breasts and legs (and bucket of duck fat in the back) from Hudson Valley Duck Farm; Hen of the Woods mushroom from Wild Gourmet; leeks and beets from Health Shoppe; eggs from Stone Barns; pork belly from Queens County Farm.

The mushroom turned into soup (post later this week) and the rest of the items will be put to good use as I prepare some of the fall/winter dishes in the book. Oxtail tartine, marinated skirt steak, duck confit, pickled leeks... Stay tuned.

Next up: Mushroom and Kale Soup

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


The nice part about this book is that it doesn't require many specialized ingredients or equipment to complete the recipes. There are a few items that I need to get from mail order sources (apple pectin and piment d'Espelette, specifically) and there are a couple items that I would like to get because I want to try Keller's suggested brands over the ones I currently use (like this polenta). Assuming the ingredients get here next week, I should be ready to get cooking. I will post about my mail order sources and experiences once the orders arrive. I am using some of Keller's suggestions and I am going rogue on others.

In other news, I will be attending the New Amsterdam Market in NYC on Sunday October 25. The market has a number of interesting vendors whose selections I am interested in surveying (Fleisher's, The Meat Hook, Hudson Valley Duck, Stone Barns Center, The Piggery to name a few). They also have a several cheesemongers (Saxelby, Jasper Hill) who might have some of the selections I am looking to procure. I'll do a blog entry on Sunday evening if I have a worthwhile bounty. I'll also Twitter from the event for those of you that swing that way.

Lastly, the book continues to get good reviews (see here). People really seem to connect with the less formal Keller.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Rules of Engagement

Why do this at all?
First, I have a great appreciation for Thomas Keller, a great appreciation for what he has done for food in America and great respect for the way that he works with farmers and other producers to get the best ingredients he can for his dishes. I also love his restaurant Ad Hoc. My wife and I were there in July and had an excellent meal. So good that, from the restaurant, we called and cancelled our reservations for the next night and made a reservation for Ad Hoc. The vibe was perfect; the food was familiar but precisely executed and the staff was attentive but relaxed. It was totally our speed.

Couple my enthusiasm for Ad Hoc and Thomas Keller with my love of cooking and we are one step closer to how I arrived here. Food is my hobby. Some people (like my sister) hate cooking; to them it's a chore. To me it is a pleasure. I cook to relax. As a teacher, I used to LOVE snow days because, if the weather predictions were bad enough the night before and I could reasonably predict a snow day, I could start my pre-ferment for a loaf of ciabatta or a French country loaf and spend the entire next day creating something from scratch. I loved how involved the process was, how everything was done by hand and how I was rewarded for my efforts in the end.

Fast forward to today. As an avid home cook I naturally gravitated to the internet and food blogs. Two of my favorite blogs are/were French Laundry at Home where Carol Blymire cooked her way through the entire French Laundry Cookbook and Michael Ruhlman's blog.

Carol's blog was so impressive that I was instantly hooked on cook-the-book blogs. She has a great voice and impressive tenacity resulting in a fun read. She spends her time now cooking her way through Alinea - a book focused on molecular gastronomy. Impressive.

Michael Ruhlman is a prolific food writer who has contributed to each of Keller's cookbooks and has written a number of books of his own. I own his Charcuterie cookbook which explains why I have meat hanging from my basement rafters. He writes on many food related topics and his blog is supported by his wife's beautiful photography.

When I heard that Ad Hoc at Home was almost complete, I made the decision to try food blogging myself. I think this book is the perfect blogging gateway because the food is very accessible. No hard-to-find ingredients, no sous-vide, just great ingredients and excellent execution.

So what do I hope to get out of it?
A sense of accomplishment for setting out a goal and seeing it all the way through to the end. I also hope to re-invigorate myself in the kitchen. You see, I took a job in administration a couple years back, so I don't get snow days anymore. That makes me sad and worse, has turned eating and cooking into (don't say it!) a, um, chore...

I come home late, throw something together with crap from the pantry and the resulting food is uninspired. My wife said to me not too long ago that she thought I was "less creative" in the kitchen. I didn't like it, but she was totally correct. So, this project is hopefully a kick in the ass. I hope this project inspires me ways to work with ingredients that I hadn't thought of, I hope it inspires me to use different ingredients and try different food pairings and I hope that it inspires me to get back in the kitchen and be creative.

So that's my story and my inspiration for this blog. Let's talk nuts and bolts so you know what the specific parameters are:

1. As with all cook-the-book blogs, I will not be providing the recipes I am cooking. Some of the recipes are available online in many places. Recipes like the Fried Chicken and Chocolate Chip Cookies are easily found with a simple search.

2. I will be cooking every recipe in the book. Sure, some of the techniques are the same, but there is a reason Thomas Keller included them all in the book, so I will not take any shortcuts.

3. I will do my best not to substitute ingredients unless it is absolutely necessary. I do not have quite the access to ingredients that one in the Napa Valley might have, but I shall do my best. There are some ingredients that I have already planned to grow in my own garden for the specific use of this project. And really, isn't that what this is all about? Using the right ingredients in the right way to get the right results; I think so.

4. Keller puts it very simply: Great Product + Great Execution = Great Cooking. As such, I will be looking for and using great products. When possible, I will use produce from farmers markets and meats fresh from the farm. If that is not possible, I will seek out the best grocery store items available. There is not a Whole Foods very close, but Wegmans is a fair substitute.

4b. I will do my best to introduce you to the farmers from whom I buy ingredients. They are great people with great products and great passion for what they do.

5. Most of the recipes are for six servings but there are only two of us in the house, so I will be decreasing quantities by half when possible.

6. At the restaurant, Keller serves a composed cheese course as one of the four courses on the menu. In the book, he lists ten of his favorite cheeses and the way he serves each. I will complete each of these ten servings as individual dishes throughout the course of the blog. The book also pictures 13 other cheeses - I will try to sample each of these as well and comment in a short post for each.

7. Keller mentions meal parings throughout the course of the book; for example, he suggests pairing the Garlic Mashed Potatoes with the Fried Chicken. When he makes a suggestion like this, I will obey. Not every recipe has a pair in the book, but I will do my best to make the combinations he suggests. A lot of the salads are not paired, thus, I will mix them in as the season and ingredients permit.

8. I will do my best to post once a week. Cooking for the blog on Saturdays seems like it will make the most sense with a post on Sunday, maybe Monday morning. If I have enough for a second post, it will come mid-week.

9. When I have a question about a recipe I will try to get in touch with the authors to get an answer. With their permission, I will post the responses on the blog.

Those are the ground rules. I have almost completed planning out the entire book by meal and by season. This week I plan on getting my mail-order items ordered and shipped so that I can, hopefully, be cooking and blogging in a week or two. Until then...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Keller writes extensively about being organized. The term in the kitchen is mise-en-place, French for "put in place." It means having everything at one's hands, prepared, ready to go. To carry the kitchen analogy, I am currently prepping for service. If I intend to do this project, this book and these authors justice, I have to get organized. Big time.

I was lucky enough to exchange emails with co-author Michael Ruhlman (one of the best out there) and Carol Blymire (of FL@H and Alinea at Home fame) about blogging in general and what a cook-the-book adventure is like. Carol was frank and honest and really put my head in the right place with what a project like this requires. But she also informed me of the extensive planning and preparation that goes into her work.

I am not rushing into the project. I will be taking the next couple of weeks to read the entire book, cover to cover. I want to get a feel for the flow of the book, how I want to organize the dishes, what I need to make in advance, etc. I then will put each recipe into a spreadsheet organized by season - for product availability - noting any special order ingredients - to schedule mail-order time into my planning. I hope to post at least once per week but I want to post composed dishes. If the book suggests a recipe pairing (as it frequently does), I will make the pair for one post.

I have already made a few items and they are great. I am getting more and more excited as I think about the great food I'm going to be eating throughout this project.

Until next time.

Next Post: The Rules of Engagement

Sunday, October 11, 2009

It's Here!

Ad Hoc at Home has hit the shelves. I think. While at Barnes and Noble on Saturday looking for The Flavor Bible I saw something that caught my eye:

Look familiar?

I immediately snagged a copy (such a description makes it sound controlled, like I wouldn't have knocked over an old lady to get my hands on the book. Let's be old lady was getting in my way). I sorta felt like I was breaking the rules; see, I have been in contact with the publishing company about receiving permission to use the artwork and book title in this blog and my AHaH Twitter account - I'm actually still waiting for final approvals - and all information from the publisher was that the book would not be released until November. Even so, when I saw the book I did three things:
1. The aforementioned snatch-and-grab (and pay)
2. Emailed my contact at the publisher
3. Tweeted @ruhlman on Twitter to see if the release was premature or legit.

His response speaks volumes: "@adhocathome I haven't even seen a finished copy! if it was softcover, it was a bootlegged galley. don't think finished books have shipped"

After a few tweets and email exchanges, I assured (convinced?) Ruhlman that I had my hands on a hardcover, legitimate copy of his book that he had not yet seen himself. I can't explain it but I am certainly not complaining.

The book is gorgeous. It is the same size as The French Laundry and Bouchon with a lot of similarities in overall composition (i.e. intermittent essays explaining ingredients or cooking techniques). It has a lot of very user-friendly tips for the home cook. There are "light bulb moments" that provide anecdotal information about the topic being discussed. Each recipe has suggestions about pairings or substitutions if certain ingredients are not available - certainly a useful feature.

The book has the expected Keller-esque attention to quality ingredients and proper cooking technique without any pretense or stodginess. The book is playful and very accessible, no recipe seems too daunting. Certainly some of the techniques may be prolonged or involved, but not out-of-reach for a home cook.

I had to cook something out of the book right away, but more on that later. Needless to say that the results were outrageously good. Part technique, part quality product (local farmer's market) with a phenomenal result.

More on the blog, the plan of attack, the rules of engagement, etc. in days and weeks to come (heck, I thought I had until November to get organized!).