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Let's eat.

From Big Sur's killer cliff-clinging eateries to Salinas' unparalleled produce, this blog aims to sniff out all things Monterey County can stomach, via picture and prose, curiosity and appetite, hand and mouth.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Another Helping: "Lifesavers" from a Master

Thomas Keller, the artist who had more than one Grand Tasting goer getting lightly afflutter by his simple appearance on Saturday, gave his PBF&W crowd a look at some of his most useful tools a day earlier during a demo called "Ad Hoc at Home."

He called the recipes he introduced his "lifesavers" at Ad Hoc, the relatively new Yountville spot he and his team hatched as a family style hit "reminiscent of home," elements prized for their invaluable versatility.

The sweet onion tapenade, he said, can be used with meats like lamb or pork or even on crackers with cheese and tomatoes—or thinned with olive oil and seasoned with vinegar to be used on cruidt√©s, fish or chicken.

The mushroom conserva, meanwhile, would go well cool or warm in a salad, or with a steak, lamb or chicken main dish. And the cured lemons make for a sweet-sour-salty treatment that can be applied all sorts of ways.

Here's how he does the tapenade and the lemons:

Sweet Onion Tapenade
Makes approx. 1 1/2 cups

Canola oil
2 cups chopped red onion
1 anchovy, salt cured preferred
1/4 cup milk
1 cup (4 ounces) pitted Kalamata olives, rinsed
1 tsp. Capers, rinsed
1 medium garlic clove, peeled
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. Extra virgin olive oil

Heat a film of canola oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook slowly. Adjusting the heat as necessary for about 30 minutes to soften the onions without caramelizing them.

Meanwhile soak the anchovy in the milk for 30 minutes. Rinse under cold water, removing any large visible bones.

Remove the cooked onions from the pan and place them in a Vita Mix (read: a high-end blender) with the olives, anchovy, capers, garlic and the olive oil. Blend, scraping down the sides as necessary to puree.

Refrigerate in a covered container.

Cured Lemons 8 (3 to 4 ounces each) lemons
3/4 pound (1 3/4 cups plus 1 tbsp.) granulated sugar
1/2 pound (1 1/2 cups plus 2 tbsp.) kosher salt

Cut off 1/2 inch from the ends of each of the lemons, leaving you with the nicest, widest portions of the lemons. Slice each lemon into 1/8 inch thick rounds, removing the seeds as you go.

As you layer the lemons with the salt and sugar, keep in mind that the goal is to have enough of the sugar and salt mixture evenly distributed on all the slices so that when it dissolves, all of the lemon slices will be covered with the liquid. It is better to use too much sugar and salt than too little, because any exposed areas of the lemon can begin to mold.

Combine the sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl.

Sprinkle a just under a 1/2 inch layer of the sugar mixture in the bottom of a storage container that is about 4 to 6 inches high and has an air tight lid. Arrange a row of slightly overlapping lemon slices on top. Cover with a layer of the sugar mixture that covers the lemon slices completely. Continue the process, alternating with lemon slices and the sugar mixture, ending with a layer of the sugar mixture on top. Place the lid on the container and wrap the full container and lid completely with plastic wrap.

Place the jar in a pantry or other dark spot for up to one month. Once it is open use within two weeks.

Something else from the cool and interesting category about "chef" gleaned from this weekend. The winner of England's very prestigious Roux Scholarship—which, among other things, awards the honored chef a career changing opportunity to train at the 3 Michelin starred restaurant of her choice—has never selected an American restaurant. But 2009 winner Hrishikesh Desai chose Keller's French Laundry. The other neat part: Keller invited Desai to hang around all weekend, including the opening round of golf at a picturesque 70-degree Pebble Beach. It spoke to Keller's ability to stay accessible and generous when he could turn towards aloof and too cool for the less gifted, i.e., the rest of us.