Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Flavors Of Your Life

Barefoot Contessa - Ina Garten

Flavors and Flowers
Beatty's Chocolate Cake
Bruschetta with Sauteed Sweet Peppers and Creamy Gorgonzola
Chicken Salad Veronique
Herb Potato Salad

To get the recipes:
Click here

Ina starts this episode with "I use any excuse to have a party." INVITE ME, INA. I like parties. She's particularly excited about this one, because it involves after-hours partying in a flower shop, and really, what could be more fun than that?

Her menu is just delicious. She starts with Chicken Salad Veronique. By the way, you could do worse than spend an afternoon with Larousse Gastronomique, studying culinary suffixes so that when someone says "Veronique" you know she's talking about grapes. Sauce Aurore, anyone? How about Chicken Diablo? She roasts her chicken breasts on the bone. Olive oil, salt and pepper. they look good - not dry at all. DO NOT SUBSTITUTE BONELESS BREASTS - any of you. And Ina warns us not to poach them either. Roasting gives us so much more flavor.

Her fav - Hellman's - goes in the bowl with the chicken, plus tarragon. She says tarragon is really underused. It could have to do with the fact that it tastes like ass. Please don't tell anyone that I said that, especially Ina. 2 stalks of celery are added. 2 stalks = one cup. Thank you for that tip, milady. The Veronique part goes in. Luckily, we just have to halve the grapes, not peel them. Wonderful treatment of a chicken salad.

She goes on to the French potato salad, reminding us that the French make it with a vinaigrette and herbs, not mayonnaise. But isn't the Chicken Salad made with mayonnaise? (Oh, never mind.) TIP ALERT: For perfectly cooked potatoes, after you've drained them, JUST tender, in a colander, cover them with a tea towel for 20 minutes to continue the steaming. Easy, breezy.

On the show, Ina pours white wine and then chicken stock right over the potatoes before adding the other ingredients. In the recipe, she says to mix it all together. I admit I like the freewheeling sheer excitement of pouring wine directly onto steamed potatoes - not something I do in my normal humdrum life - but follow the recipe here. It lessens the chance that one potato will benefit more from the winey bath than the others.

Now, she's adding parsley, and lots of it, and tarragon (you PROMISED not to tell her what I said) AND red onion. (I likey, I likey!) Let it hang in the fridge for a few hours and you have what may be the making of a new family favorite.

Now we're moving on to Michael's Grandmother's cake. And what a cook she must have been! Sift the dry ingredients together, as if any idiot wouldn't know that, INA! Please! Ok, I'll spill...Until recently, I hadn't bothered sifting FOR YEARS - who needs that, I would say. Then one ignominious day, I bit into a muffin and, bleech, the baking soda was in a little bitter-tasting glob. Not nice. So, now, even if I can't be bothered to sift the whole thing - gosh, what a rebel I am! - I ALWAYS sift the leavening, at least, with an adorable little strainer I got at Dehillerin (Ina mentions this temple of cookware in Barefoot in Paris) with a bit of the flour.

Ooh! A secret ingredient! One cup of strong hot brewed coffee. I LOVE IT. And now you could call it a chocolate mocha cake, couldn't you, Ina? "A chocolate cake is just a delivery system to really good chocolate icing." How could you not love her? Ok, we have a recipe here that has the making of a classic. So rich, so luscious, so easy to make, you'd have to come up with an excuse NOT to. Go get that recipe now.

The icing looks superb. I won't worry about that raw egg yolk, if you won't. And you could just leave it out, it really won't make a huge difference. If you're serving really small kids (should they be eating chocolate anyway?) or really old folks, just leave it out. Good cake icing tips. A turntable is essential, but you don't have to buy a fancy one. I have a Rubbermaid lazy susan that I got for 45 cents over 20 years ago at a yard sale.

"I always like to serve one small thing with drinks." Ina opines. She's right. Don't spend hours making 10 different things. Make one good thing. Cooking, except maybe when you're young and foolish and suffering from low self-esteem, shouldn't be about showing off. Just make good, fresh WONDERFUL morsels of deliciousness and the rest will come.

Here's a life lesson, folks. Nobody likes to be served by a frantic and exhausted cook. Ina understands that better than everyone. You have to drag her away from the party to finish the cooking. That's why she always leaves the room with the proviso, "Don't have any fun, until I get back".

Ok, one more quick recipe to go, the bruschetta. For the topping, she's sneaking a teaspoon of sugar into the peppers to help them caramelize. I think I'll cut that to half a teaspoon. Gosh, they do look amazing. How browned and crisy and crusty. What the hey, I'm adding the ENTIRE teaspoon of sugar.

Oh, Ina's arrived at the flower shop with her food. NOW the party can begin. As they finish the cake she says, "I wonder if the second slice will be as good as the first." Do I have to even ask why we love our Ina?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


I found your tip on icing the cake a huge help. A fairly new baker, I have been struggling to get my cakes to look pretty. There's no Lazy Susan on this blog! Thank you and keep blogging!