Saturday, April 21, 2012

Sur La Table Cooking Class: Ad Hoc At Home

One of my favorite restaurants is Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc in Napa. It combines comfort food in a casual setting with gourmet French touches. Everyone at the restaurant eats the same meal on any given night, the diners entrusting the chefs for the evening. It’s a two-way street: the chefs must live up to that trust and deliver a satisfying and delicious meal that doesn’t cater to the lowest common denominator.

When I saw that our local Sur La Table store offered a cooking class featuring recipes from Keller’s Ad Hoc At Home cookbook, I decided to sign up. Not only did it include cooking instruction and lunch, it also featured an autographed copy of the cookbook. My friend Xenia signed up too, and it was definitely more fun to take the class with her.

Our chef instructor Gale Tan clearly explained and led us through the meal. Her three sous-chefs had already started preparations since some of the components (red wine reduction, oven roasted tomatoes, and garlic confit) required more time than we had. While this class was hands-on, it was not demanding as we only did a small fraction of the work required to prepare the meal (and none of the clean-up--what a treat!).

We enjoyed:

Iceberg Lettuce Slices with Blue Cheese Dressing, Oven-Roasted Tomatoes, Bacon, and Brioche Croutons

Beef Short Ribs

Smashed Roasted Marble Potatoes

Apple Fritters

The cooking instruction room has a wonderful set-up with a U-shaped preparation area for students, a huge assortment of tools and gadgets, and all the features of a full-stocked kitchen. Everything tasted delicious, and I appreciated mini-lessons that Gale gave such as some knife skills, adding a dash of truffle oil to the potatoes, cutting the brioche croutons much larger than described in the recipe, and the wonders of a Vitamix professional blender.

The dish I enjoyed the most was the retro iceberg lettuce salad with homemade blue cheese dressing, oven-roasted tomatoes, crisp but not greasy bacon, and the large brioche croutons. Everything melded together wonderfully: taste, texture, temperature, color, and smell worked in perfect harmony. It was decidedly a lot more work than I’m used to putting into a salad, and I’m not sure I’d try recreating it at home, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and would love to have it again.

An Ad Hoc cookbook recipe I tried and enjoyed at home is the sauteed cabbage. I adapted the recipe by only including purple cabbage instead of combining with the green savoy cabbage. What makes it so nice is the addition of roasted pistachios. You can see in the photo how beautiful the colors shine through, and the healthful benefits of the dish make it that much better.

Sauteed Red Cabbage (adapted from Ad Hoc at Home)

1/4 cup shelled pistachios
Canola oil
4 cups ½-inch-wide strips purple cabbage
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
3/4 cup chicken stock
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread the nuts on the sheet and toast in the oven for 10 minutes. Let cool.

Heat canola oil in saute pan over medium-high heat. Put shredded cabbage into pan and reduce heat to medium, stirring while cooking for about 4 minutes.

Add shallots and chicken stock to pan, stirring to combine. Bring to a simmer and continue to stir the cabbage while cooking for about 5 minutes. Lower the heat and cook until the cabbage is tender. Season with salt and pepper if desired.

Stir in the pistachios. Transfer to a serving bowl.