Monday, April 23, 2007

Ina, Slow Down A Minute And Smell The Lemongrass

Barefoot Contessa - Ina Garten

Lunch in a Box
Lobster Cobb Salad Rolls
Brown Rice, Tomatoes and Basil
Mini Orange Chocolate Chunk Cake

To get the recipes:
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Ina's friend, Edwina, is bringing her a big box with herbs, so Ina thought she'd whip up a little dinner in a box as a thank you. She's including Lobster Cobb Salad. LOBSTER COBB SALAD!!! Ina, here's a pot of parsley, what can I have? What would happen if Edwina brought you some marigolds? Would that be dinner for 20? I guess for tulips, you would cook all summer for her. You are nothing, if not incredibly generous.

Ina likes to take recipes that she knows really well and play with them. Today she's adding orange zest and chocolate chunks to a favorite cake. She creams the butter and sugar until light. It can take up to 5 minutes. Then she adds the eggs one at a time.

She readies the dry and wet ingredients separately. Flour, baking powder, baking soda. Whoa, slow down Contessa! She knows this recipe so well that she's rushing! Mix fresh orange juice with buttermilk (shake it first). "It'll look curdled. don't worry." Oh, I almost missed the vanilla that she was adding at lightening speed. Wait for me..I'm trying to get this down. The ingredients get added alternately. "Don't overbeat or you'll end up with bread not cake."

"And now, the reason we're making this cake - Chocolate Chunks." Of course, she chops up her own. I'd call those chocolate boulders, instead of chunks, but whatever. She tosses them with a bit of flour (extra flour, which worries me a bit) so they don't sink. I've never done that and I have never had a problem with sinking ingredients.

The only time I think flouring something is called for is when you're making an old-fashioned fruit cake. Then you should flour all that horrible dried fruit, because that WILL sink. In that case, though, it would be a good thing, so you could just cut that part away. And does ANYONE really like fruit cake? I believe it's the same fruitcake year after year that was actually baked in 1804 and people just keep pouring more booze into it. Here's the tale of a guy who used a fruitcake to drive a nail into a board. Anyway, I'm concerned about that extra tablespoon or so of flour affecting the texture of the cake. So, Ina, I'm leaving it out.

The BC tells us it's fun to make individual cakes. Why? "Because then you don't have to share." She is so witty, my Ina. Ok, yours too.

Ooh, she's using a silicone red muffin pan. The little cakes go in the oven at 350 deg F. for 30 minutes, then get soaked in an orange syrup THEN get drizzled with a chocolate glaze. Ina, are you sure I can't bring you SOMETHING in a pot?

We switch to Edwina. I love her spiky hair. She's not only planting the herbs, she's PAINTING the box.

The cakes are done. Oh darn, I wanted to see her get them out of those molds.

She starts the glaze. Bring to boil..spoon over. Ina, WAIT, what were the ingredients? Why do I feel like she can hardly wait to get these finished. I know they're going to be delicious, but give me a minute here. Well, now she's on to the chocolate. She says to use 1/2 lb. of chocolate chips with 1/2 cup of heavy cream. She pours in the entire bag. Ina, that bag is 10 oz, not the 8 oz. that you said to use. She adds the usual coffee powder that she is so right to say brings out the flavor of the chocolate.

She says you can be casual about the amount of chocolate, but the mixture is a little thick. OF COURSE, it's thick, you added an extra 2 oz of chocolate! I have to say I always weigh my chocolate for ganache, it's just easier in the long run. Now she has to play with adding more cream, which for her is child's play. For us, it's a pain. Another thing, she's using twice as much chocolate and cream here compared to what she says in the recipe, which tells us to use 1/4 cup cream and 4 oz. chocolate. What the hay? Use the double amount. You're just having one little cake, for goodness sake.

She drizzles the ganache over the syrup soaked cakes. Oh, I forgot to say she used fresh orange juice in the syrup, that she bathed the cakes in. Of course, she did it so fast, it was more like a sponge bath than a good soak.

Back to Edwina, "Oh, I'm so happy with the herbs I got online." Honey, you're going to be happier with dinner.

Ina begins the brown rice salad. She thinks it suits Edwina because "she's kind of a hippy." I love that Ina thinks only hippies eat brown rice. She's so démodé, but in a good timeless way. Her recipe calls for Texmati brown rice. That's the kind I use. I LOVE IT! Brown BASMATI rice, which this is, is so much more flavorful than regular brown rice. It tastes almost nutty and smells so good when it's cooking. BTW, Indian brown basmati rice is much stronger, I guess to keep up with all the spices.

Ina's already cooked the rice, remember she's hurrying in this episode. Her recipe (and the Texmati jar) says to use 2 1/4 cups of water to cook one cup of rice. You don't need that much. 2 cups will do it. And Ina says to simmer it for 30 to 40 minutes. Do it for 45. Oh heck, just follow these cooking instructions:

BROWN RICE (Basmati or otherwise)

2 cups water and or stock, orange juice, tomato juice or any other liquid you can come up with

1 cup Texmati brown basmati rice

salt, if you have to

Bring liquid to boil. Stir in rice. Bring to hysterical boil. Cover, and turn down heat to lowest heat possible. Cook for 45 minutes WITHOUT DISTURBING POT. No peeking. Can be left at back of stove up to an hour after cooking. Stir with fork before serving.

(You can get away with cooking it for 40 minutes, if you have to.) PS If you're serving the basmati rice plain with a hot entree, cooking it with just one teaspoon of butter, adds a luxuriousness that's hard to beat.

Ina whisks up a vinaigrette to go over the rice - champagne vinegar, olive oil, way too much sugar, salt and pepper. She dresses the rice when it's warm, so it absorbs all those wonderful flavors. She dices the tomatoes and adds those, impressed by the wonderful tomato flavor that will also be absorbed by the rice. Ina tells us it's fine to make it in advance, so the taste can really develop. Looks wonderful. This is served at room temperature, so you can make it early in the day and just let it hang out until you're ready to serve.

Ok, now the centerpiece of this whole enterprise - Lobster Cobb salad. "I think I've made this more than anything else in all of my books." That's saying alot. Think of Jeffrey's Friday night Roast Chicken, my favorite orzo recipe of hers, the famous brownies, the chocolate cakes...I could go on. But for her, it's Cobb salad, in many different guises. Today it's with lobster.

She starts with Hass avocados from California, her favorites. They're the brownish ones. Boy, those are really beautiful avos. Adds fresh lemon juice to them. It looks like she keeps a bowl of lemons around, just like Giada. Our friend is smart. She bought 1 1/2 pounds of lobster meat, already steamed. She cuts it into large bite sized pieces. "Good for a fork - no knives." Grape or cherry tomatoes go in. They can be red or yellow.

Back to Edwina. Boxes (she made one for herself too) are done.

Ina prepares the dressing for this succulent salad. 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice -about one lemon, 1/3 cup olive oil, 1 1/2 tbls. Dijon, salt and pepper. She just whisks it up in the measuring cup. Pours a lot of it over the lobster and tomatoes and saves the rest for the remaining ingredients. She didn't make the dressing in a blender, which is my cardinal rule for dressings. Do I care? Not really, because she's using all of it for this one salad. The reason I'm so devoted to the blender is because it allows you to keep the dressing for a week in the fridge and it will stay really well emulsified. If you like this dressing and you want to double or triple it, then do use the blender.

Avocados go in and bacon, which she has baked on a rack, goes on top. She adds bleu cheese and tosses everything together with arugula, which gives it a fresh flavor.

She's quite chatty as she loads hot dog buns with the salad. "It's fun to have a special treat where everything is individual. Like a kid at a birthday party, having his own cupcake. " And "I always say this is a mother-in law salad. When your mother-in-law comes, make it for her. She'll love it and love you." You see, not only does she give us superb recipes, but also ways to promote family harmony.

I would have preferred a ciabatta roll, but she was trying to do a take on a traditional lobster roll, which is served in a hot dog bun.

The food goes into a bakery box lined with parchment paper and is wrapped with Edwina's favorite - a raffia ribbon. Remember when Jeffrey spent hours looking for the perfect ribbon with which to wrap Ina's anniversary present?

Edwina comes to the door and shows Ina her handiwork. It's a deep blue flowerbox with many different herbs, including lemongrass, which is new for Ina. Edwina says, "The blue is for you, because you're always in blue and it's just such a happy color - just like you."

She is surprised (really?) and grateful for the box dinner that Ina has prepared. Just another example of how friendship and food go hand in hand (hand in mouth?) in the world of our Barefoot Contessa.

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