Ad Hoc – Herb Crusted Honey mustard Rack of Lamb

I have a go-to recipe for rack of lamb. Place the rack of lamb into a gallon ziploc bag. Add red wine, balsalmic vinegar, crushed garlic, fresh rosemary sprigs, sea salt and pepper. Seal the bag, pressing all of the air out. Marinate overnight, flipping the bag in the morning. Grill or broil to medium rare. Perfect. I decided to give the Ad Hoc recipe, Herb Crusted Honey Mustard Rack of Lamb, a try. After all, it’s always good to have another version of that dish in your arsenal. I followed the instructions carefully, and I think that’s where I went wrong with this recipe.

There are very few meat dishes that are good when the meat is too sweet. Meat should be savory; desserts should be sweet. The recipe called for 1/4 cup of honey. At first it didn’t look like much, but as I was measuring it out, I was thinking I should cut it down. I wished that I had followed my instinct. The dish came out a little too sweet if you tried to get a bit of the crumb topping with every bite of lamb. The crumb topping itself was fantastic with the right kind of mustard. I used a whole seed gourmet mustard.

I’m going to have to give this another try, and definitely remove the honey from the recipe. Then, maybe JUST maybe it will be as good as my simple rack of lamb above.

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Ad Hoc – Braised Beef Short Ribs

Braised beef short ribs are my weakness. I love to eat them, but I haven’t been able to master cooking them. Something always seems to go wrong with the dish. Either I don’t cook it properly or I choose the wrong cut of meat. I decided recently that enough was enough and I decided to attack the Ad Hoc Braised Beef Short Rib recipe.

First step is to make the red wine reduction. The recipe calls for quite a few different veggies to be chopped up and reduced down with a bottle of wine. After you’ve done that, you toss in more veggies and beef stock to make a rich soup to braise the beef in. Most of the time when I make reductions or braising liquids, I feel bad that most of the beggies in the liquid are “going to waste”. You don’t actually eat the braising liquid, its just a by product of sorts.

The first run through the recipe was definitely not smooth. I went to Whole Foods to pick up fresh, organic produce and meat. However, I used dried herbs instead of fresh herbs. Every time I buy fresh herbs, a good portion of it goes to waste. So, dried herbs it is. As I was searing the short ribs, I belatedly realized that I didn’t have any beef stock in the house. To make matters worse, I was out of cheese cloth as well. The show must go on. Since the sole purpose of the cheese cloth is to prevent the herbs and veggies from sticking to the meat, I just opted not to use it. For the stock, I ended up using two cans of chicken broth and one can of condensed Campbell’s French Onion soup. I figured that this was better than just using water.  After 2 hours in the oven at 325 degrees, the meat was still tough and not meltingly tender. So I popped it back in the oven and let it go for another two hours. Result: meltingly tender and tasty. Success!!!

A week later, I decided to make short ribs again for a large dinner party. This time, I had to double the recipe. It all barely fit into my 5.5 qt oval Le Creuset Dutch oven. I used all beef stock this time, rather than the mish-mash of broth that I had last time. I honestly couldn’t tell the difference between the two dishes.I still had to cook the short ribs longer than what Thomas Keller recommends (1.5-2 hours). I’m not quite sure why, but that’s just what works for me.

Since I had so much braising liquid left over, I decided to keep it. I strained out all of the veggies and added more beef stock to it. Add the short ribs, cooked noodles, some stirfried chard and you’ve got yourself a killer bowl of beef noodle soup. Mmmmmm.

I love the fact that I can now make the braised beef short ribs. All I have to really do now is just adjust the seasoning until it is as good (or better) than what I can get in a restaurant!!

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Ad Hoc: Pan Roasted Halibut

The simplicity of Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc never fails to surprise me. After our French Laundry experience, I usually assume that anything from Thomas Keller is extremely complicated.

The Pan Roasted Halibut is very simple to make. I’d even call it a week night meal. Halibut, canola oil, salt…voila! Done. I had to read the cooking instructions twice carefully because he provided precise timing at specific heats. However after following the instructions, it still seemed raw in the middle. I put it back in theoven for 3 mins longer and then the halibut seemed over cooked. The crusty top was beautiful and actually looked like the photograph in the cookbook!

I finished the fish with a little sea salt and meyer lemon olive oil. Great, quick, easy weeknight meal.

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Ad Hoc – Fried Chicken

Engineering  Food decided to tackle the Fried Chicken from Ad Hoc last Sunday. PB and I had grabbed the last copy from the Williams Sonoma store on a whim a month or so ago. I’d heard about the legendary fried chicken from a few friends who had been to Ad Hoc. I thought, “How good could this possibly be??”

For those who aren’t familiar, Ad Hoc is a restaurant in Yountville, CA by Thomas Keller. The concept behind the restaurant is one menu, three courses, served family style. That menu changes daily, but is the only offering for that day. When I turned 30, I dragged a bunch of friends up to Ad Hoc to celebrate with me. I still remember the Kurobata Pork Loin on creamy polenta… mmmm.

So back to the Fried Chicken, what’s the big deal?

There isn’t really one magic ingredient for this entire recipe. We used chicken breast parts, instead of a whole chicken. I prepared the brine the day before and then brined the chicken for about 11 hours. The brine has a lot of simple ingredients: thyme, parsley, lemon, kosher salt, honey, peppercorns, etc. I really think that it made the meat extremely flavorful and moist.

The outer coating is also very well seasoned. The chicken is dipped in the coating, then in buttermilk, then again in the coating. This creates a wonderful texture to the coating. Its actually pretty spicy in parts due to the paprika and the cayenne pepper. Next time, I think we’ll cut down any additional salt in the coating. Some pieces were particularly salty and we couldn’t tell if it was the brined chicken or in the coating itself.

mmmmm. So good and much easier than we thought.

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Office Cookie Battle

This past Christmas marked the 5th anniversary of the Cookie Battle that I organize at my office. I started the event because I had seen a short segment on the Food Network. Some other people had the idea from the Iron Chef TV series. I thought it might be fun to try to pull together our larger eCommerce team for a fun event. The first year, it was difficult to get bakers to commit to baking. However, every year after that, its gotten successively easier to convince people to bake.

We usually have up to 20-25 entries on the day of the battle. All entries are re-plated onto white Chinet plates and labeled with the cookie name and number. Surprisingly, people are really serious about naming the cookie! Every attendee and baker gets three votes to cast however they choose. There’s a grand prize for the Popular vote getter, 2nd place, and 3rd place.

As a treat for everyone, Chuck Williams is invited every year to judge the contest and select his own special winner. He’s 94 years old and takes his cookie judging very, very seriously. He will sample every single cookie on the table, arranging each bite on his plate in a very specific way. The rest of the masses are just haphazardly tasting the entire table, Chuck is extremely methodical about his tasting.

It’s fascinating to watch Chuck work the room. I’m always amazed that an American culinary legend is in our midst, tasting our cookies. He always has wonderful feedback about the cookies at the end. It’s great to watch the baker’s faces light up when he singles out their cookie for special commentary.

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A16 pizza dough

so Fried Rice and i decided that this was the weekend we’d try to make the pizza dough. i bought the a16 recipe book a few months ago and have tried several of the pasta dishes from the book. i’ve always been a little hesitant about making the pizza dough because….i have no idea. i guess i’m intimidated or something. we’ve been big fans of the Trader Joe’s premade pizza dough for quite some time now, so there hasn’t been a rush to make our own.

after our successful pasta party, i was inspired to make the a16 pizza dough. i followed the directions as closely as possible. all purpose flour seems to work pretty well, and the kitchenaid mixer performed perfectly! voila! “the best pizza we’ve ever made” proclaims Fried Rice.

my only tips:

practice patience. this dough is great, but you really do need a couple days to refridgerate the dough in between steps.

make sure the oven and the pizza stone is really hot

make sure your ingredients don’t have a lot of liquid in them. else you end up with a great crispy outside and a lake in the middle.

shake excess flour before tossing the pizza dough….otherwise you’ll get flour over everything in your kitchen.

looks we’ll have to try a second round of pizza dough to see if we can get the ingredients right!

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>Sorta more like home cooking

>This is a very delinquent post for a engineering food dinner back in May. We decided to “go easy” and do Chinese home cooking. But the way our minds work, there always has to be either 1) a super complicated dish 2) something that uses way too much of one ingredient.

So the Main menu went something like this:

  • Honey Walnut Prawns
  • Asparagus and Crab Soup
  • Pearl Meatballs
  • Singapore-style rice sticks
  • Stir Fried Vegetables
  • Eggwhite custards tarts

PB had some eggwhite custard tarts the last time she was in Shanghai. I got an email nearly immediately afterwards, telling me she had eaten a dozen in one sitting. *Sheesh* Save for the rest of us, eh?

The first attempt with the regular egg custards was fine, but the crust didn’t turn out so well. This time, we decided to cheat a little bit and use phyllo dough for the crust. Toast set about calculating the number of egg whites it would take to create this masterpiece. (1 egg = 2 egg whites). We used about 2 dozen eggs for the entire meal. Oops, we always overdo some ingredient.

The end result is a ridiculously, fluffy egg custard tart. Now I know why PB ate a dozen of them. There’s no guilt, just bliss.

Pictures by Jay Tsai Photography:

http://www.jaytsaiphotography.com/blog/2008/06/03/cooking-party-chinese/

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