Summer's homesteading how-to's and grilling guides have given way to fall's fearlessly bountiful lineup. It's the time of year when big chefs send out their big books and publishers release doorstoppers that will have U.P.S. trucks listing with the weight as they leave the warehouse. It's also the time for really useful books that will nudge you deeper into the winter kitchen to discover (or rediscover) the secret to no-brainer bread -- or find out how much more your co-workers will like you if you bring in a "Naughty Senator" cake.
Let's start with the biggest American chef with the biggest book. Thomas Keller is a pro at translating his restaurant menus into lavish cookbooks for the advanced home cook. His latest, AD HOC AT HOME: Family-Style Recipes (Artisan, $50), written with Dave Cruz, Susie Heller, Michael Ruhlman and Amy Vogler, serves up cozy dishes from his "casual" restaurant, Ad Hoc, a set-menu, elbows-on-the-table spot in Yountville, Calif., where the meatballs and fried chicken are inarguably better than your mother's. Keller loosens up accordingly -- or at least as much as the country's most obsessive chef can -- with hand-holding tips (how to extract more meat from a lobster, snip the ends of green beans with scissors or use a No. 12 Parisienne melon baller to prettily pit cherries -- naturellement!) and pictures of him looking sheepishly "ad hoc" in front of kooky chalkboard illustrations. Keep in mind that in Keller-ese, "casual" doesn't mean "effortless." The idea for Ad Hoc may have been born from staff meals, but let's consider the staff.
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