To Library, To Library, To Borrow A Fat Book

The food: imperfect potato pavé

The story:

My husband E is an avid reader and a heavy library user. He puts on hold any book he reads about that sounds remotely interesting, and brings home from the library 5 or 6 library books a week, minimum.

Sometimes he puts books on hold because he thinks I might like them. Sometimes he passes on to me a book he chose for himself and I take a look at it. We rarely like the same books, but our differing opinions give us something to talk about over dinner.

Last week, E handed me The Lovers, the latest (2010) novel by American writer Vendela Vida.

He hadn’t liked it much, but I found it engrossing, suspenseful and thought-provoking. It tells the story of a widow in her early fifties who, two years after the death of her husband, travels to Turkey for a solo holiday in a rented house. The novel’s tone is fairly arty, and it deals with themes as sombre as grief, the vicissitudes of a long marriage, and the challenges of parenting troubled children. But its premise brought to mind, in a good way, my favourite sub-genre of romantic suspense novels (one I’ve blogged about before), the kind that transports an intrepid single woman alone to an isolated foreign location and lets the story rip. (Only this time without the romance.) So, good catch by E: I liked this novel a lot.

Also this week, E brought home Ad Hoc At Home, a large, heavy cookbook by chef Thomas Keller, of French Laundry (in Yountville, California) and Bouchon Bakery (in New York) fame.

This best-selling, much-lauded cookbook is billed as containing accessible recipes for comfort food that can be easily made in home kitchens, to which I can only say “Hah!” And “Hahahahaha!” Because my attempt to reproduce a ‘simple’ side dish called potato pavé made me realize anew that I could never be a chef. Not with my authority issues.

The ridiculously complicated (yet admirably clear) instructions for the recipe (there’s also a video at the recipe link, of Thomas K making the dish with Martha Stewart) start by requiring a pan of certain dimensions and a mandolin. I had neither, so I used a smaller pan and a knife. I also refused to cut the peeled potatoes into oblong shapes and discard the rounded bits. And I went with 18% cream instead of the 35% heavy cream the recipe called for. So that when it came time to start neatly layering the potatoes in the pan, I was already in trouble:

I kept layering anyway until I’d filled the pan:

Once I’d baked the pavé for 10 minutes less (such a rebel) than the recommended 1 hour and 50 minutes, I wrapped a piece of cardboard in foil to cover the pan and set a can and a jar on it as weights, as instructed by the recipe:

But I felt pretty idiotic when I’d done it. So I ignored several of the recipe’s remaining steps: I froze the weighted pavé (I used an oblong tub of ice cream as a weight instead of the cans) for 1 hour instead of refrigerating it for 6, did not trim the edges off the pave that I unwrapped after freezing, and did not let the slices rest for 30 minutes after I cut them and before I sauteed them in canola oil and thyme leaves (but without garlic).

Given my unwillingness to comply with Keller’s instructions, it’s surprising that at least one slice (I won’t show you the others) came out looking semi-presentable. Here’s another view of it, garnished with chopped chives from my own garden (woo-hoo) and minus the final pat of butter the recipe calls for.

How did it taste? Good. It reminded me of the mushroom pithivier I enjoyed at The Queen and Beaver Pub in Toronto, and made me want to go back there and order that again. But the taste wasn’t good or special enough to warrant the effort (and the mess in my kitchen after making it), in my opinion.

E liked it more than I did, so good on him again for bringing home the book from the library. I’ll probably never cook another recipe from it (okay, I may try making the vaunted chocolate chip cookies), but dissecting the book did make for some lively dinner conversation.

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3 thoughts on “To Library, To Library, To Borrow A Fat Book

  1. la femme fraîche says:

    Finally! A blog post about cooking I can relate to! I always feel like all the bloggers I follow can execute every recipe so flawlessly, and take beautiful pictures of it to boot. And when I try and experiment, I always end up making a mess without any great end success! haha this made me laugh but it does sound tasty, even if it’s not-so-perfect:)

  2. Gillian Chan says:

    I tried my first recipe from ad hoc yesterday – the pineapple upside down cake. It worked pretty well, and wasn’t overly complicated to make. I was looking at the potato pave recipe and will give it a whirl in the future.

    Keller’s latest book, Under Pressure, on sous vide techniques is even more complicated. Having been through some of the recipes in that, I think we will use it more for timings and temperatures for particular foods than for an actual recipe book.

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