March 15, 2011

ad hoc snob (with Tamale Pie recipe)

…and all those White House cookbooks too.

Yesterday and Today
Himself: Is spending his day at the border.

Herself: Deeply touched by Robert Brady’s updates this morning. Swam, class….lunch like lead, correct the essay and post. Back to Stephanie Plum.

Earthquake Updates: Robert Brady’s Quake Updates; Kay in Hawaii; Gigi Hawaii.

I confess. I’m a snob. I volunteer in a thrift store, and that’s made me even more of a snob. I don’t just buy jeans anymore. I buy Ralph Lauren…when they come through the store. I don’t just buy shoes, I buy Bjorn. I don’t just buy ordinary cookbooks any more either. Betty Crocker and Sunset used to be good enough for me, but not lately. These days I look for the best of the “in” chefs’ new books to bring home and add to my collectioon. Last week, sucked in by its beauty, I bought “ad hoc at home,” chef Thomas Keller’s latest tome.

Princeton’s dictionary tells us that “ad hoc” is: often improvised or impromptu such as "an ad hoc committee meeting,” but there’s nothing ad hoc about this large, dramatically designed coffee table cookbook or the unique cooking style created by chef Keller. Newsweek magazine tells us, “Alice Waters and Chez Panisse may have started the locavore movement. Jean-Georges Vongerichten perfected high-end fusion cooking, and Wolfgang Puck created the celebrity chef. But Keller, with his emphasis on flights of tiny courses, his application of rigorous classical French technique to both high and low cuisine, created a new style of fine American dining.” Oh, I can so easily be sucked into this twenty first century, nouveau snobbery.

I came home and settled in for a serious read. Propping this massive and handsome volume up on several lap pillows, I eagerly began reading….and it is an eminently readable volume.
He gives us homemade comfort food Keller style. Here too, he tells us how the restaurant “ad hoc” began, what the goals were, and how the he and his staff reached the point of fame and fortune where they are now. I was eager to learn.

“Be kind to your parents,” Chef Keller reminds us next to a picture of his father. He was honored to be able to cook for his father in his last years. Great stuff. Then came the roast chicken. Chef Keller is right. A good roast chicken is a work of art and provides chicken for hundreds of other recipes. Brine the chicken, he tells us. Brine? Isn’t that salt? Rub with goose fat. Fat? I was set back, put off, and not at all charmed. I came to a halt, actually. This is not being kind to your parents.

Over the years I’ve gotten better at tap dancing on the head of a pin, but not with the addition of salt and fat, darn it. I closed the book then made dinner from a modern, three item cookbook that really worked out well. Tamale pie….popular in the 1920’s the book told me. Delicious stuff, actually, with no additional salt, fat, fuss…..or ad hoc snobbery.

Tamale Pie a la "500 Three Item Recipes"

2 cups mild salsa
1 pound hamburger browned
1 package Jiffy Corn Bread Mix made according to package
(And I added 1 small can of corn)

Brown meat, add salsa and heat through, put in buttered casserole and top with corn bread mixture. Bake 20 minutes at 350.


“ad hoc at home:” Chef Thomas Keller’s cookbook on comfort food

Thomas Keller at Wikipedia.

Newsweek: How Thomas Keller transformed American Dining


  1. You're just ad hoc without the snobbery. No wonder everyone likes you!

  2. Harriet took my idea! Go Harriet! Go you!

  3. hmmm. Kay of Musings posted that for Thanksgiving, she always brines her turkey over night, and the salty water makes it tender and juicy. I have never done that, but I do swear by the oven bag method.

  4. Nice rewrite, but I liked the corn muffin mix.

  5. Hmmm... Brine a chicken? That's a new one for me. I wouldn't mind trying it sometime. I love recipes with only a few ingredients.

  6. When I think of my grandmothers cooking it was all brine and goose fat and stirring in the gravy and long and lovely mornings of cooking the roast, or the bird. We do not cook like that any more, do we. Yet, both sets of grandparents lived long and healthy.

  7. I due a rub and let it set for a day. I think reading cookbooks instead of eating is a great way to reduce weight. Salt and fat...not bad in and of themselves, just how much and how often.

  8. I love your thrift shop snobbery :)
    One of my late friends - the writer Elizabeth Grey used to also review book and would pass on cook books to me - so I have a great collection - mostly unused these days.
    My mother used to rub goosed grease into my brother's chest - he had pneumonia as a babe. Better out than in:)

    PS Lilalia: your grandparents probably walked everywhere and had a much healthier life style from the sheer energy they expounded - apart from the fat and salt:)

  9. It has become an anecdote in my family that once, long ago, my nasty second husband, declared after tasting his supper, "I'm not having any more of this ad hoc cooking!" Then he stormed out.

    I make up recipes according to what's in the fridge. Sometimes the contents of the fridge combine well, sometimes they don't.

    Long ago again, after I divested myself of the nasty 2nd and went to work in Germany, my girlfriend and I who were frequently dieting, used to spend lunch hour talking about food instead of eating. Once a month we would drive into town and eat salty, fatty pizza.

  10. I see by your picture we share some of the same cookbooks. Love them. Love your tamale pie too. Mmmm!

  11. You're too funny. And your recipe sounds good. I'd have closed the book at goose fat too. Besides, my own roast chicken recipe is perfect. ;)

  12. Tamale pie sounds yum!

    PS Would love to meet the next time we come out. Thought of you lots as we drove down Rosencrans and around Midway.

    South Beach Saloon is across from the beach on Newport.


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