Friday, April 2, 2010

On Not Being Disappointed With Dinner

Originally uploaded by reallyct
I cry "Uncle!" Thomas Keller, for all of his persnickety OCD, has won my heart once and for all, and while I climb on the bandwagon rather late, I like to think I do so because I have permitted myself to be skeptical before jumping. It is true, I have only ever eaten at the Bouchon in Las Vegas, but I own three of the man's cookbooks and I am here to say:

I have yet to make something bad from any of them.

Now, it is true, the cake in the photograph was my creation, not his, but I didn't manage to photograph anything else we ate Tuesday night because I was in the kitchen making it. The entire main course of Hebrewpalooza 2010 was from Keller's Ad Hoc at Home and, if I may be so immodest, it was all delicious.

This is the fourth iteration of Hebrewpalooza chez nous and the years have experienced varying degrees of success: Year 1's rack of lamb - utter fail; some people didn't get their food until others had long since finished. Years 2 and 3 tried to arrest that problem by featuring braised and stewed meats that do not have time sensitive components. But stew is kinda unfestive and I wanted to do something different this year. Originally I was going to roast chickens until I realized that roasting multiple chickens sounded time-complicated especially if I wanted people to eat warm food. So I paged through the book (which had already been used for a weeknight chicken paillard that won high marks and a cod which, if I could bring myself to enjoy fish, would have been excellent as well) and hit upon duck breast.

Cool. I like duck. In fact, duck is one of my favorites. Yet, somehow, I had never made duck breast before. I very ambitiously (and using Keller's recipe from his Bouchon cookbook) tries my hand at confit, but I had never gotten around to making duck breast. So, a week before the guests arrived I bought two duck breasts and tried them out.

They were good, even as they were a trifle overcooked. They were good enough and frankly simple enough to prepare, that I decided we would have duck for everyone. So I searched for some side dishes to go with my duck. Being the feast of You Can't Eat Anything, many delightful side dishes were ruled out, but I settled on the Rainbow chard with wine soaked raisins and pine nuts (no one ever said Keller wasn't, frequently, a trifle precious) and garlic potato puree. So I had to make a couple of adjustments to keep with the spirit of the holiday, and this necessitated exchanging butter and cream in the potato recipe for delightful, super nutritious, duck fat. Come on everyone, say it with me: " fat."

I am frequently super judgmental when it comes to my cooking because most of the time I know I could have done better, but this time, I am safe in saying I did well enough. While there was certainly room for improvement (I'm looking at you duck breast that for some strange reason didn't cook through while some of your brethren were a touch past medium rare even though I moved you throughout the pan during cooking so you would be evenly done), I may have been more pleased about the complete package than I have been at any other meal.

And while Keller can be a little fussy, this book is really really accessible. And I fought myself on whether or not to buy it, thinking I already had his two other books, what did I really need with this one. No. I needed this book and if you like cooking you might need it too.

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