For Christmas, Sandy received a copy of Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home. We are admirers of Thomas Keller. He seems to be a quiet and thoughtful man. He is more a statesman of his craft and in his community than a celebrity chef. It states in the introduction to Ad Hoc that this is a cookbook for home cooks. Our first thought was, not sure who’s home he is referring to, but if they have an empty room for rent, we’re in.
It is a lovely book. We have tried a few of the recipes. We’re paying attention to what he says and not taking shortcuts. It seemed silly to us to cook each of the vegetables in the chicken potpie in separate pans, not so silly when we tasted it. There are “lightbulb moments” throughout the book. Hints that are educational and encouraging. As it turns out, it is a book for the at home cook, if the at home cook follows directions.
We were intrigued by the section on things you should have in your pantry that will answer the question “what can I do with this chicken?”. There were recipes for preserved lemons and garlic, chutneys made with sweet onions and cranberries, an oven roasted tomato sauce. These recipes aren’t canning recipes, but with the addition of some acid in the form of lemon juice or vinegar, they could be-our own “lightbulb moment”. We’d never thought of using our canned goods as part of a greater whole – emulsifying them into salad dressings or sauces, combining them with other ingredients for a side dish. Up to this point, we’d thought only of relish trays and warm biscuits and gift baskets for Christmas. With jars of chutneys, preserves and sauces in the pantry, you don’t have to think of the whole meal every time you go to the grocery store. The pantry becomes a store in and of itself.
That book and that idea led us to another book: The Preservation Kitchen by Paul Virant. The introduction reads like our own path to canning obsession, except for the fact that we aren’t Michelin starred chefs nor do we own a restaurant, let alone two. He writes that the pantry is the soul of his kitchen. When he is looking for inspiration, he does an inventory. The colors and the possibilities in those jars move him. In that, we are kindred spirits. When he opened his first restaurant, Vie, Paul Virant was determined to serve fresh, local produce all year. Realizing that beets were the only fresh, local produce to be found in the winter in the outskirts of Chicago, and that a menu that revolved around beets might not bring in the crowds, he started canning a few cases of tomatoes and a few jams. Those first few jars made him realize that it was possible to bring summer to the table all year long. And there began the obsession-he refers to himself as a “jarring chef.” Local farmers extended the growing season with greenhouses and hoophouses to keep him supplied. Fields where once only corn and soy beans grew were transformed as more restaurants started creating farm to table menus.
We bought this book, not just because he seemed to be the Thomas Keller of canning, but because of two words: aigre-doux. Those French words hook us every time. It is a condiment made with fruit, wine, vinegar and spices. It is meant to be served with cheeses, roasts or fish but can be turned in to a vinaigrette, a sauce, a glaze. These jars are beautiful to behold. We can not wait to try our hand and then to find ways to use them.
Last year we were caught up and excited by the process-and the fact that it seemed like we could become good at this canning thing. It was, frankly, exhilarating. These two books have ratchetted up the excitement. We have learned from them and been inspired by them. It may seem silly to some, but we are grateful to have found our obsession and to have each other to share it with. This year we will still can blackberries and blueberries and hopefully peaches in a light syrup. We will still make dilly beans and tomato sauce and try to find a better recipe for pickles. But we will also have an eye on winter and filling space in our pantries with giardiniera, jams made with muskmelon and cantelope and most certainly aigre-doux. With pears, Meyer lemons, oranges, and root vegetables showing up on the shelves in late fall and winter, we know now, we can can all winter. We will have jars in the pantry inspired by Paul Virant and meals on the table inspired by Thomas Keller. We will have our grandmothers’ pantries but, thanks to these two books, we will also have one of our own.
PROJECTS & A CAKE: GIARDINIERA, MEYER LEMON AIGRE-DOUX, THOMAS KELLERS GRAPEFRUIT CAKE
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 3/4 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup whole milk
- 3/4 cup canola oil
- 1 tablespoon grated pink grapefruit zest
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 3/4 cup fresh pink grapefruit juice, strained
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
Preheat oven to 350. Spray a 8×8 baking dish with non stick spray or lightly oil. Sift the flour and baking powder together and stir in the salt. Set aside. Combine the sugar and eggs and beat at medium speed for about 3 minutes until the mixture has thickened. Beat in the milk, then the oil, grapefruit zest and vanilla. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture until combined. Spread in to prepared baking dish. Bake for 60 minutes until cake tester comes out clean. Transfer to cooling rack.
Meanwhile combine grapefruit juice and sugar in a small sauce pan. Bring to a simmer and cook for on minute. Set aside.
As soon as cake is removed from the oven using a long skewer, poke deep holes every 3/4 inch all over the cake. Brush syrup over the cake. Allow syrup to soak in to the cake. Use all the syrup. You may have to wait while it soaks in. Once cooled you can glaze with 3/4 cup confectioners sugar & two tablespoons grapefruit juice. We did not. We liked it the way it was.