Sunday, April 1, 2007

Oy, I Can't Believe I Ate The Whole Thing

Barefoot Contessa - Ina Garten

Friday Night Dinner
Brisket with Carrots and Onions
Chopped Liver
Garlic Sauteed Spinach

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After the unfortunate-ness at the end of Giada's last show, I need the calming culinary presence of the Contessa, and she doesn't disappoint. It's Friday night and it's Jeffrey's weekly homecoming. As Ina says, "Just when he's expecting yet another roast chicken, I always like to shake it up a little bit, so I'm making an old-fashioned Jewish dinner." You go, Girlfriend!

She laughs as she takes out a brisket big enough to feed the entire East End of Long Island, and then some. (Ummm, Ina, didn't you say your husband is gone during the week? WHO is going to eat all of that? Oh wait, I see another excuse for a party coming up...with some fabulous cocktail to go right along with it.)

Ina hoists the meat into the roasting pan and makes a quick seasoning mix. Don't skip that step. One pound of the LARGEST carrots I've ever seen get chopped and thrown in. Ina giggles over their size, too, as she instructs us that 1 pound of carrots can be 2 BIG (monster-sized to tell the truth) or 5 small ones. She cuts 8 stalks of celery into large chunks. Chop everything fairly big, because it's cooking for so long. Pour "good" tomato juice over the top. Cover with parchment and then foil. She does say something rather curious - that you can use plastic wrap instead of the parchment. I must say I've never tried plastic wrap in the oven and I wouldn't want to risk harming my super-sized piece of meat. So use wax paper or parchment (I personally hate parchment, I think it's a rip-off) under the foil. The point is to cover it well, so the meat really cooks in a steamy braise of simmering liquid.

Ina remarks, "So that was pretty fast for dinner that could feed 10 people","But" she adds, with a glimmer in her eye, "For tonight, it's just Jeffrey and me."

She makes rugelach with 1/2 lb cream cheese and butter plus sugar, vanilla and flour. I like how she admires her 2 cup measuring cup. That IS handy. Don't over-mix, she tells us and chill well before rolling it out. She's freezing three-quarters of the dough for another time.

Ina starts the chopped liver. She sautés it in chicken fat, schmaltz, until still pink inside. (Always cook all organ meats fast and on high heat.) She removes the liver and adds LOTS of chopped onion. Cook until soft and caramelized.

Ooh, Jeffrey's back and Ina has sent him to the store for spinach. He's worried big time. He's still smarting from the MELON DISASTER of 1999. (I made up the year), when he was unable to identify a cantaloupe and brought home a melon of some unknown origin. Jeffrey's trepidation increases as he reaches the market. He finds the vegetable section (I give him points for knowing that he was buying FRESH spinach and not canned) and decides to buy 2 kinds of spinach to reduce the odds that he's bought the wrong thing.

Meanwhile, Ina adds Madeira to the liver - her own special touch - you could add any kind of brandy or even a dry sherry. Into the processor with the liver and Madeira, go 4 hard-boiled eggs with seasonings and, oh, what the heck, a little bit more schmaltz. Pulse it to chop coarsely. She scrapes it into a bowl, a BIG bowl, and will refrigerate the mixture and THEN taste it for seasoning when it's cold.

Ina takes the brisket out. Wow, that's one enormous slab of beef. She reduces the sauce, while the meat rests and on to the rugelach.

She rolls out the dough into a 9 inch circle. Roll from center to outside, not just across the entire circle. Right you are, Barefoot One, that is correct. Spread with puréed apricot jam (how about adding a touch of lemon juice to brighten the taste a touch?) Cover with nut filling, which she whipped together quickly. Cut pastry into quarters and then each quarter into thirds. Then Ina shows us how roll up the rugelach, starting from the the outside edge, going towards the center. Hey, I didn't know that's how you do that. That's nifty. I'm going to make me some soon.

Jeffrey comes in. Ladies...and Gentlemen for that matter...listen closely. Ina greets Jeffrey with the same enthusiasm as when they were twenty. She makes him feel that he is her special someone. I love her. I love him. I love THEM. In fact, watching them makes me love myself.

He proudly displays his treasures. She approves. He breathes easier and she says it was better than the time she sent him out for a lemon and he came back with a grapefruit. (Oh, Jeffrey, what a card!) He looks down at the (massive amount of) chopped liver and says I want that!!! Down boy! Let her just get the matzoh out...The rugelach goes in the oven all eggwashed and glistening from a sprinkling of sugar and cinnamon.

She slices up the meat that could feed IOWA, covers it with the sauce and veggies. She sautés the spinach, which, frankly, Jeffrey couldn't care less about. He'd be happy to have the chopped liver as a side dish. (She is using a beautiful sauté pan. We've talked about sauté pans before, you and I. They are indispensable.)

Cookies are put out for later. Spinach is served with the brisket. "Sweetie" is called. She tells him she wants to be sure he always wants to come home on a Friday night. He says she's doing a great job. She has said elsewhere that if she doesn't cook for him, she knows someone else will. She's not about to let that happen. We end as she strokes his face and presents him with rugelach, which he acknowledges in a whisper are MUCH better than his grandmother's. Go get him, Contessa.

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