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Almost that time of year again…

December 21st, 2009 Comments off

We’re deep in cookie baking, tree decorating, house cleaning and all the other fun stuff that surrounds this time of year, not too much time to cook fancy things, but I did have time here and there to make some fun stuff. This will be more of a photo album kind of post, I’ll get back to Ad Hoc ad Home and other books soon though!

While at Whole Foods recently I stumbled over some Oregon Black Truffles. I had never heard of such a thing and the price wasn’t too outlandish, so I got me some. Packed in a small clam shell box with arborio rice. I was gonna post a picture, but they did not come out, just imagine little pieces of charcoal on rice :-) They have wonderful aroma, though taste is very faint, you need add quite a bit to taste them. Last time I had black truffles from Italy is years ago, don’t really have a reference anymore, but while these are good, I’d not run out to buy them again. We had some on “perfect scrambled eggs” made like Gordon Ramsey does here:

I served them on toasted multi grain bread with some fresh wild arugula salad:

Scrambled eggs on toast with black truffles and arugula salad

Scrambled eggs on toast with black truffles and arugula salad

Recently we watched Julie and Julia, fun movie and Meryl Streep is fantastic as Julia Child. Probably because that movie is out, PBS had a two hour special with some of “the best” Julia Child episodes, one of which was the omelet making one. Her book Mastering the Art of French Cooking has several pages with pictures on how to make this, I never quite got it though and hesitated to try. After watching her and seeing how easy it really seems to be, I made two 3 egg omelets today, grated some more of the truffles on top and added some parsley, just like Julia would have done :-) You know what? It’s really easy to make these in a non stick pan, I was surprised. You can see the episode (for now at least) at the link below:

Here’s how ours turned out:

3 egg omelette with black truffles and parsley

3 egg omelette with black truffles and parsley

Now, on to some meat! While shopping at Whole Foods recently I saw some fantastic pork shoulder roasts at the meat counter. About as picture perfect as I can imagine one, so I just had to get one:

Pork shoulder roast

Pork shoulder roast

I decided to cook this one in my Big Green Egg again, low and slow, spiced with salt, pepper, and cumin seeds, just like I make nice Bavarian pork roasts. Here it is, ready to roll:

Ready to roast!

Ready to roast!

To go along with it I caramelized some red and yellow onions and made some Semmelknödel, Bavarian dumplings made from bread and other stuff. These actually were from a package, I have yet to walk down the road of made from scratch Bavarian bread or potato dumplings. I also marinated some red and white radishes in a vinaigrette as a side salad. The roast came out perfect, I took it off the BGE once internal temp was about 140 degree and let it rest for a good 20 min or so. The meat was tender and juicy and succulent, one of the best pieces of pork I’ve come across in a while! And it was quite cheap, I think the entire roast cost about $12 and we had dinner 3 times from it!

I only have pictures of the first two, one with the dumplings, onions (where I added the drippings from the drip pan in the BGE and the juices from the cutting board) and some arugula salad. Later in the week I cut a big slize, fried it in the pan until a nice crust developed no the cut sides and sliced it. Meat was warm, tender, and had not cooked any further. This time we had some nice potatoes and yes, arugula salad. I just love that stuff!

Pork shoulder roast with Semmelknödel, caramelized onions and radish salad

Pork shoulder roast with Semmelknödel, caramelized onions and radish salad

Leftover pork shoulder roast, seared, sliced, and served with potato and arugula salad

Leftover pork shoulder roast, seared, sliced, and served with potato and arugula salad

Well, since then we had two sing fests at the kid’s schools and all kinds of other stuff going on, and I had to get things ready for cookie baking time! One thing we need for what’s here wrongfully called gingerbread cookies – Lebkuchen – is candied lemon rind. We used to buy this at Safeway, a jar full of oddly green or yellow colored tastes like nothing somethings. Last year Safeway ran out before I got to them, so we had to make them ourselves. And they are so much better that way, they’re not even the same thing! And so easy: peel a lemon with a knife, including the white pith, put into a pot with water, bring to a boil, drain and repeat two more times. That takes care of the bitterness of the pith. Then you weigh it, add the same amount of sugar and some water, bring to a boil and simmer for about an hour, until translucent. Skim out, put on drying rack for two or three days, sprinkle with sugar and there you are. A delicacy, not only for baking, but all by itself too! Dip in chocolate for a real treat :-)

Some pictures of the process and the product:

To peel a lemon, cut in half, slice rind off with sharp knife. Then sqeeze out juice and freeze or use otherwise.

To peel a lemon, cut in half, slice rind off with sharp knife. Then sqeeze out juice and freeze or use otherwise.

Simmering in sugar syrup

Simmering in sugar syrup

Candied lemon (and tangerine rind, the orange ones) on the drying rack

Candied lemon (and tangerine rind, the orange ones) on the drying rack

And that’s it for this post, the next update will have lots of cookie pictures (though no recipes, family secrets! Well, maybe some, we’ll see) and a little side step about Italian meat balls made from scratch in a moment of temporary insanity :-)

Categories: Cooking Tags:

Cooking with Ad Hoc at Home – Cauliflower Soup

December 7th, 2009 1 comment

I really love this book! There are quite some things I want to try my hands on, the first that I had flagged was cauliflower soup, which incidentally also was the first dish we got to try at a book signing with Thomas Keller, so I guess I really had to make it now :-)

I made the whole recipe, which is supposed to give you about 6 portions. It uses two heads of cauliflower (4-5 lb), a leek, some onion, milk, cream and butter (of course), 1/4 tsp curry, s&p. and you add croutons and beet chips. All together it probably took me about 2hrs, though you could take quite some short cuts here, buy croutons, buy veggie chips, blend with an immersion blender if you don’t mind it a bit more rustic and skip the cup of blanched and fried in butter florets on top. This could be a relatively quick to make dish if you skip those mostly presentational things.

In this cased I followed the entire recipe, except that I used curry powder I have from the Indian store.

I cut two heads of cauliflower into chunks, half an onion and one stalk leeks. I did not really measure these out in cups, just eyeballed it. They go into a pot with butter and 1/4 tsp curry powder and some salt, where they steam under a parchment paper lid (seems to be one of TK’s favorite things and really does work very well) for some 20 or so min, until almost tender.

Cauliflower, leek and onion

Cauliflower, leek and onion

You add 2cups milk, 2 cups heavy cream, and 2 cups water, bring to a good simmer and let go for an other 30 min or so. Then you’re ready to blend it all up. He recommends the VitaMix (I have a feeling that we have some paid product placement here….) which I don’t have, I had to use our stone old:
Picture 65
Oysterizer Cycle Blend, which actually did a fantastic job! I can’t imagine what a VitaMix would have done better. I started on slow and eventually worked my self up the row of buttons until I hit liquefy and ended up with a super smooth light and foamy, velvety, almost whipped cream like soup, out of this world! Super creamy:
Picture 62

Once that’s all done, you’re basically good to go, you could just eat right now, but there are a couple garnishes to do if you want to copy the recipe exactly.

As I have never deep fried anything, I figured this is as good a time as any to try my hands at it, and I won’t need a huge pot of oil. I took my smallest pot and filled it with about an inch of peanut oil, heated it up to 300 degree F. Meanwhile I peeled one beet and sliced it on my mandolin into very thin slices. Once the oil reached temp, I fried them in batches of 5:
Picture 63
I put them on a cooling rack and salted them with fine sea salt.

Next it was time to blanche the cup or so of florets I had reserved, just in salted water with a dash of vinegar. Once done they go in a frying pan with a Tbsp of butter until browned. I used the same pan I had used for the croutons with the remainder of garlic oil still in there, figured I might as well.

Well, there you have it, soup, browned florets, croutons, beet chips. To plate I poured two ladles of soup on a bowl, added some florets in the center, croutons on top and a stack of chips on top of that. For a bit of color I added one water cress twig, sprinkled some black salt and pepper around and drizzled a bit of good olive oil on. Served with thick slices of rustic sourdough bread, this dish is heavenly! The soup is rich, fluffy, airy and light, very very tasty. The different add ons give great different textures, from soft to very crunchy and the bread is what you need to soak up every last drop and wipe the bowl clean.

Ad Hoc Cauliflower soup with Beet Chips

Ad Hoc Cauliflower soup with Beet Chips

This soup is delicious and I see lots of other add ons one could play with, things like bacon, different greens, etc. A flexible delicious base to play with. Or just stick to the book, I’ll definitely make this again.

I still have a bit less than half of it for left overs, wondering if it would freeze well? Might try with just a cup to see what happens. This would be a great soup to bring for a potluck or to share at Christmas with family, just get some good quality croutons or make some that day, everybody can get a small cup to warm up and get ready for dinner!

I will be making more things from this book, it’s not a 30min quick glop book, the recipes take some work, but it’s also not the French Laundry book. It’s full of recipes any good cook can make, if one is willing to spend a bit time in the kitchen. As you can imagine, I highly recommend this book, check in my store for a link to buy it via Amazon and support this site at the same time!

Oh, I just came across some nice video with Thomas Keller on the Borders Books site, check it out:

Thomas Keller about Ad Hoc at Home and cooking some recipes

Categories: Ad Hoc at Home, Cooking, Dinner Tags:

Meeting Thomas Keller, how ever briefly

December 4th, 2009 Comments off

Last night we went to the San Francisco Williams Sonoma flagship store for an invite only book signing by Thomas Keller, owner of the French Laundry, Bouchon, Per Se, and Ad Hoc. He is touring for his latest book, Ad Hoc At Home, an excellent book (of course) with recipes from the restaurant, which servers a fixed 4 course dinner that changes every day. It’s served family style and a lot more casual than the French Laundry.

I’m not sure why we got the invite, it’s not like we spend thousands of dollars at William’s Sonoma, but we jumped on the occasion nonetheless. Where else am I gonna meet one of the best chefs alive today?

Friends came over to watch our kids (thanks Eric and Jubilee!!) and off we went, taking bart to Powell Street and walking up to Union Square. The store occupies a gorgeous old building right next to Tiffany’s. It’s 3 stories high, possibly the largest WS store anywhere. The special treat was that aside of the signing Thomas Keller and crew served little bits and pieces to eat, all from recipes in the book, and the Williams Sonoma wine club offered tasting of some of their wines. (Other book signing are just that, you buy the book and get it signed). The store was very busy, looked like it’s the day before Christmas and people are out to buy last minute gifts. Of course, most just had heavy bags with one or more of the book to get signed.

Friendly wait staff came by with trays of food at all times, we tasted the buttermilk fried chicken (for which Keller also sells a little set in a bag with everything you need), braised short ribs, meat balls, shrimp, cauliflower soup, and some sweets. Everything was of course excellent, I can’t wait to cook from this book! I’m just about done with my no shopping for a week (well, almost 3 weeks, see prior post) and plan to tackle the fried chicken and that awesome soup very soon.

I already own the book, but to get it signed you had to buy a copy there (though I probably could have smuggled it in, they did not check for receipts). On a whim I bought two, just in case :-)

We moved around the store and went to the 2nd floor for a glass wine, when a friendly girl asked us if we’re here to line up for the signing, and we ended up the first people in line on the 2nd floor. Apparently the line on the third floor was already full! So we got in line, my wife watched the books while I got us some wine and we waited, nibbling on the occasional food floating by. Eventually we could move on to the next floor, from where we could catch the occasional glimpse of Thomas Keller’s back all the way at the top. I did not time it, and the line did move pretty quick, excitement building as we moved onward and upward. Some of the staff came around with post it notes taking down the names the books were to be signed to, I guess that helps with avoiding misspelled names or having people spell out their name to the person signing, a good idea.

Finally we reached the 3rd floor and moved closer to the table where Thomas Keller was sitting, accompanied by Chef Dave Cruz, the chef de cuisine at Ad Hoc.

Chefs Dave Cruz and Thomas Keller

Chefs Dave Cruz and Thomas Keller

Once we reached the front of the line Thomas Keller took a short break to speak with a man in wheelchair and have pictures taken, then he resumed his position behind the table and my books were given to him. He seemed very happy and friendly, shaking our hands and proceeding to sign my book to me with artistic elan, as well as signing my 2nd book.

signed Ad Hoc at Home

signed Ad Hoc at Home

I am glad that I got to mention that I learned more about cooking from him than anybody else before we had the photo taken and that was it. Our brush with fame, with one of the best chefs alive was over. We went towards the back to watch some staff prepare some of the food and I took a couple more photos on the way back past the table and that was that. Somehow I missed to have chef Cruz also sign the book, I’m not sure if he had left for a moment or if the hustle and friendly “move along now guys” by the staff distracted me. Probably I was just starstruck :-) But hey, I can always drive over to Yountville and eat at Ad Hoc, see if I can get him to sign it for me then (and apologize for the oversight).

I’m very glad we made the trip, it was great fun to sample some of the food and it was a great honor to meet Chef Keller! Hopefully some rubbed off when we shook hands and took the photo. I just mentioned it today elsewhere, the French Laundry Cookbook has changed how I think about food, how I cook, how I shop and what I buy and eat. It had tremendous influence on me in more ways than I can tell or even know about.

Thomas Keller struck me as a very nice and humble person, he did not have any star attitude, just a friendly guy happy to see so many fans come by to see him. I won’t forget this meeting, and since chances are slim that I’ll ever run into him elsewhere again – unless he puts out an other book (Ad Hoc?), this is a cherished moment in my cooking life.

Chef Thomas Keller and me

Chef Thomas Keller and me

On the way home we decided to give the 2nd signed book to our friends, as a thanks for watching the kids and they had given us fun gifts in the past, from some of their travels. They also really appreciate good food and cooking and love to cook, I’m sure we’ll invite each other over for a little tasting of one or the other dishes very soon and I’m happy to share Thomas Keller’s and his associates cooking wide and far. As I’m not a millionaire to take them all to the French Laundry, the book will have to do for now :-)

Did I mention that I highly recommend it? Aside of the recipes it’s full of tips and great photos on some of the tricks of the trade. Hey, Christmas is coming up! Get yourself a copy or give one to a loved one!

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