Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Barefoot Quandary of Extra-Large Eggs and Bleu Cheese

Barefoot Contessa - Ina Garten
Barefoot Reunion

Barbecued Ribs
Blue Cheese Cole Slaw
Chocolate Ganache Cupcakes
New Potato Salad

To get the recipes:
Click here

Ina tells us about her store, Barefoot Contessa, which she sold in 1996. It almost sounds like another icon...this time on the big screen: "I had a farm in Africa". Anyway, Ina has invited 6 of her longtime co-workers from "the early years'" to dinner and she's making several of their famous dishes. And she can't wait to see how they're all doing.

She starts with barbecued ribs. Apparently, this recipe was a long time in development. They had several recipes they were working with and she decided to put them all together - Asian, Tex-Mex, traditional - to come up with what became the signature Barefoot Contessa Barbecued Ribs.

She cooks the onion and garlic in olive oil until soft. Then she adds chili powder, cumin, red pepper flakes, ginger, lime zest and juice. Goodness, there's more! She's adding vinegar, mustard and orange juice. She wasn't kidding about merging MANY different recipes and she obviously kept each and every ingredient from them all. She simmers it for 15 minutes.

I don't approve of something so far. Can you guess what it is?

Very good, if you guessed that Ina didn't cook the spices first, before adding all the liquidy stuff.

WHENever, HOWever, WHEREever, WHOever (ok, that last one doesn't make sense) you're adding warm spices, i.e. chili powder, cumin, coriander, turmeric, paprika, cinnamon (usually to sautéed onions and/or garlic), they should be stirred over the lowest heat you have for 3 minutes BEFORE you add anything even vaguely liquidy. This takes away the raw taste and develops the flavor of the spices. This can be the difference between a so-so dish and one that really sings. And, of course, I'm talking about sautéed dishes here, not baked goods, like cakes or rolls with cinnamon other spices.

To clarify, before you add the entire left side of your pantry to this barbecue sauce, stir in the entire right side (the spices) for 3 minutes on low heat...I just checked the recipe and the Contessa goes halfway. She cooks the chili powder, cumin and red pepper flakes for ONE minute. Not enough, but, at least, she didn't skip it altogether. You and I know know what we have to do, right? 3 minutes, super low heat BEFORE the wet stuff goes in.

Luckily, we're moving on to the chocolate cupcake recipe. She creams room temperature butter with sugar, until it's light and fluffy. Then she adds 4 extra large eggs, one at a time.

Hold on just a minute. Just what exactly are we going to do about The Barefoot Contessa's use of EXTRA LARGE eggs in every recipe?

Very few food writers use extra large eggs in their recipes, the standard is large. I almost think Ina's doing it as a way to stand out and make it harder for anyone to copy her.

THIS is the problem: a large egg is 2 ounces. An extra large egg is 2 1/4 ounces. Obviously, this matters when you're baking, not making omelets.

What to do? I have NEVER used extra large eggs. EVER. After great thought, this is what I've come up with. When I crack open an egg, I make sure to get every drop of egginess from the inside of the shell. That could be an extra teaspoon or so. I may not be using the size she specifies, but at least I'm getting every last bit of the egg that I AM using into the recipe. AND when I'm adding liquid to her baked recipes, I intentionally add perhaps a teaspoon more.

Even though I've baked plenty of Barefoot Contessa recipes, I've never used the correct size egg and it doesn't seem to matter (although theory says it should).

However, if you have a recipe that uses A LOT of eggs, 8 extra-large for example, that WILL make a difference - a 2 ounce difference to be exact, which conveniently is the size of a large egg. So that one is easy...8 extra-large eggs equal 9 large eggs exactly. It's when it's less than that that you have the issue.

Here's a rather confusing chart that seems to say that if the recipe calls for 4 extra-large eggs, do what you want, use 4 OR 5 large eggs. After that, use one more large egg than extra-large. Thus, if the recipe says 5 extra-large eggs, use 6 large and so on. Got it?

Ok, so you've added whatever the heck eggs you're going to add, and now she's adding a 16 oz can of chocolate syrup!!! What? It's the secret ingredient. Ok, if you say so. And I guess all that liquid deliciousness will make up for the exactly 1 oz shortfall of egg protein that my cupcakes will suffer from. Add vanilla extract and then put the flour in the bowl. Beat only until it's JUST mixed, or you'll have tough cupcakes and noone wants that for you, least of all the Contessa.

This batter makes 12 cupcakes. She uses an ice cream scoop to get them into the muffin pan. VERY CLEVER IDEA! They bake at 325 deg F. for 25 to 30 minutes. She says 30 in the recipe - check after 25 minutes.

We're back to the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink marinade. Set aside some to be served with the cooked ribs. The rest gets spread all over the meat and it goes into the refrigerator to marinate for as long as possible - a few hours, overnight, a day or 2. She likes Country Ribs the best, which you may have to discuss with your butcher in advance. Ina doesn't think baby back ribs have enough meat on them and that spare ribs are too fatty.

Her friend, TR, arrives in a wild shirt. He's in charge of the grill. She cracks open the Veuve Clicquot and he starts the fire. She heads back into the kitchen to finish cooking.

For the cole slaw, she slices green and red cabbage in the food processor. Put it in sideways to get long slices. The red cabbage goes ON TOP OF the green cabbage. Don't mix them together yet. She grates the carrots with the grating disk and puts them on top of the red cabbage. She makes the sauce, starting with 16 oz. of mayonnaise. "This makes a lot", she adds rather sheepishly. Dijon and whole grain mustard get mixed in with apple cider vinegar, celery salt (tell me the truth, is your celery salt from the last quarter of the 20th century?) and salt and pepper. "Put enough sauce on so that it moistens it, but not so much that it's wet and sloppy." Ok, maybe I wouldn't have put it exactly that way, but you get the idea.

Ina adds Roquefort. "I know there are those of you who think this smells like gym socks, but it's really delicious." She adds parsley now. "I'm going to put it in the refrigerator and it's just going to get better and better as it sits." (Kinda like gym socks?)

I have mixed feelings about the bleu cheese. One thing I am completely sure of: the cole slaw doesn't need it. I do defend her right to add it, but I really prefer to enjoy bleu cheese on its own, where it doesn't taint, I mean overpower, the rest of what it's being served with. I think the best way to present it is at room temperature with a generous portion of good honey lavished overtop, dripping all down the sides and surrounded by well-toasted walnut halves and sturdy crackers or bread.

Back to the cupcakes. She's doing her ganache thing - heavy cream and chocolate get melted together with a bit of coffee powder in a double boiler arrangement. Stir until just melted. By the way, the usual way to make ganache is to heat the cream, just to boiling, and stir in FINELY chopped chocolate until smooth. No less an authority than Rose Levy Beranbaum loves to make it in the food processor, so that it's silky smooth.

TR lights the coals. The ribs are on. They really don't have to cook that long, maybe a half hour. They get turned once or twice. Ina sets the table with Barefoot Contessa colors - red and white. She puts bags of candy down the middle, tied with BF ribbons. BIG napkins (for the ribs) go on and she reminds TR (and us) that the coals should be even and not too thick.

Back in the kitchen to ice the cupcakes. She spoons a LARGE amount of ganache over each cupcake. The recipe says to dip each one, I like using a spoon. Ina places a large candied violet on each cupcake and they go on cake stands. That's an attractive way to present them. They look gorgeous.

The Barefoot friends arrive. They toast to the Barefoot Contessa - the store AND the person, I guess. They take a lot of pictures and hunker down with the ribs (they turned out BEAUTIFULLY) and cole slaw, these original foodies. And Ina didn't forget to serve the extra marinade.

The Chocolate Ganache Cupcakes come out. They remember them well. To old times, old friends and old recipes.


philabean said...

Thank you, Sue, for posting the eggs equivalent chart, especially as they relate to Ina Garten recipes. You're a lifesaver. Was in the middle of making her lemon cake and didn't know what to do about the eggs -- didn't want to run to the store when I have 2 dozen large eggs at home (guess I didn't pre-read the recipe very well). Anyway, I found your post and I went with 4 large eggs instead of 4 xtra-large eggs! All was fine. Thanks, again.
Mary Ellen

Sue said...

Hi Mary Ellen,

You're very welcome! I do love the Contessa and I'm sure your lemon cake was perfect with large eggs. Thanks for the comment.

Kribha said...

I was baking a pineapple-upside down cake and I had trouble with the number of eggs to use. I did a search in google and came across your site. Thankyou so much for posting that chart. It was of great help. My cake is still baking. Waiting for the result. Hope it turns out good.

glama2574 in GA said...

I was in the middle of making Jamaican Christmas Cake & had only extra large eggs in my fridge, of course this is at 11:30 at night & I wasn't about to run out to the store!! So I figured somewhere ... someone must have had the same question!! Thanks for putting this information here for us all!!

Sue said...

I'm so glad you found me. Good luck with the cake.

Welcome! I'm happy I could help. I hope to hear from you again.


thanks for your information on the egg equality, esp. since you're referencing Ina--b/c I couldn't help but laugh what you wrote--it's so true. Who uses x-large eggs other than to buy some at the store to make a Barefoot recipe.

Sue said...

Hi Kamille,

Yes, you are right, you can spot a BC fan right away from which eggs she is buying.

Lys said...

*hangs head* Sue - I have a confession - I only buy extra large eggs. I figured if Ina says so, dammit, I better listen -much like Good Vanilla, Good Rum, etc.

Yes, I'm guilty... I know. *sigh*

Judy's Bakery & Test Kitchen said...

Thanks, I am new to Ina's recipes (I don't have cable! Horrors!).

Anyways, I got "How Easy Is that" from the library, and saw the Extra Large Eggs in a recipe. Thanks for saying that it should come out fine.

I noticed on an online video, that she gets a lot of the egg on her hands when she cracks them anyways! And then her hands are clean in the next second of video. Sigh, if only my cooking was so messy then neat. But that means she is losing a lot of egg in the process.

I'm new to her cooking, and she seems to add a bunch of unfamiliar ingredients like truffle butter and Stilton. Maybe those are easy to find in the Hamptons?

Thanks for your wonderful post!


Jeff said...

That Contessa is quite a number.