Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving at Ad Hoc Restaurant

I am attempting to eat at Ad Hoc Restaurant 366 times within mine or the restaurant's life. Each time represents a day during a calendar year. This is a tricky proposition because Ad Hoc isn't open every day (they're normally closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays), and closed on major holidays. For instance, 2012 is a Leap Year, however February 29th will fall on a regular Ad Hoc day off, so I'll have to wait until 2016 to eat there on a February 29th.
When I heard this past Spring that the restaurant (my favorite) would be open (as a one-off) this Thanksgiving I asked early and often for a seat. We've dined often enough to become pretty good friends with a number of the employees. It feels like family.

Prior to Thanksgiving dinner there were murmured rumors . . . "a whole turkey per table," "Chef wants one of each pie made per table," etc.
Pastry Chef Sarah Z. at 2 am finishing her Thanksgiving pies
Finally, the big day arrived. I ate a persimmon for breakfast and tried not to eat anything else before our 3:30 pm reservation. We drove past our friends' San Francisco apartment and picked up pineapple treats they'd brought back from Taiwan. We each ate one, which saved our grumbling tummies.

Once we arrived, we didn't have to wait long for the great appetizers. Every bit was housemade, down to the crackers. Hor d'oeurves featured olive and eggplant spreads, wrapped bread sticks, stuffed mushrooms and smoked salmon.
White bean soup
The turkey roasted for our table.
Turkey with all the fixings: onions, Brussels sprouts, yams, green beans, bacon celery stuffing, whipped potatoes, cranberry sauce, and little drop biscuits. The mushroom soup on the green beans was out of this world.
Our table of two was served half of each pie--pumpkin, apple and pecan with vanilla ice cream, caramel sauce and whipped cream. (Tables of four were given three full pies!)
This was my second time eating in a restaurant on Thanksgiving day. The first time didn't feel like Thanksgiving, this time definitely did. The entire staff went out of their way to devise a plan to make their friends and family feel really, really special. Everything about the meal was planned to create a feeling of home, comfort, memory, etc. We brought home a file box full of leftovers, just like the leftovers of our past Thanksgivings.

Ad Hoc's careful planning succeeded.  I felt extraordinarily lucky to have such a love-lavished meal.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Honey Caramel Almond Bars

As they say, the fifth time's the charm, and here is the final product:

Gourmet Girlfriend's Honey Caramel Almond Bars
Time 1 hour, 30 minutes; Serves 24
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
½ cup superfine sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup cornstarch
¼ teaspoon salt

Position rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 300° F.  Grease bottom and sides of a 9” X 13” baking pan very well.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter, salt, and sugar at medium speed until combined.  Beat in the vanilla extract.  At low speed, add the flour and cornstarch, mix until just incorporated.

Pat the dough evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan.  Prick the dough well with a fork.  Bake for 20 minutes, until pale-golden brown around the edges.  Cool slightly as you prepare the topping.
Caramel Almond Topping:
4 cups sliced almonds (optional: use less)
½ cups light corn syrup
1 cup honey
4 cups sugar
2 tablespoons butter, unsalted
½ teaspoon salt
4 cups heavy cream, divided
2 teaspoons vanilla
Place the almonds on a baking sheet and bake at 350° F for 10 minutes until lightly golden.

In a very large sauce pan heat the sugar, honey, corn syrup, 2 cups cream, butter and salt on medium heat, stirring, until it reaches bubbling, cover and cook for 3 minutes.  Without stirring, when bubbles subside, wash down the sides with cold water.  Let boil until the caramel comes to 240 degrees, soft ball stage.  Slowly add the last 2 cups of cream, without breaking the boil.  Continue to boil until caramel reaches the medium/firm ball stage 244 degrees.  Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and almonds.  Toss until they are completely coated.

Pour the caramel over the pre-baked pastry base.  Cool the bars completely, then cut into 24 triangle bars 

(OPTIONAL:  let cool 5 minutes to 200°F and use to cover caramel apples).