Monday, May 14, 2007

Ina And The Zen Of Plating Fruit

Barefoot Contessa - Ina Garten

Good Home Cooking
Blueberry Coffee Cake Muffins
Fresh Fruit Platter
Gravlax with Mustard Sauce
Orange Banana Smoothie

To get the recipes:
Click here

Young friend Phoebe is in college and bringing some friends over for a little brunch TLC with the Contessa.

Ina starts the menu with homemade gravlax. She takes a huge hunk
(3 lbs.) of fresh salmon and cuts it in half. Then she covers it with LOTS of fresh dill and sprinkles over 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup kosher salt. She places 2 tablespoons of white peppercorns, which are a little milder than black, in a mortar and pestle with 1 tablespoon of fennel seeds. She crushes them (you could also pound them with a cast iron frying pan) and adds that to the fish.

BTW, there are already a few disparities in the FN recipe and we're just getting started. It says a QUARTER cup of salt and sugar, not a half AND the recipe lists the fennel seeds, but doesn't put them in the method. Also, the recipe says to leave it to cure for at least 2 days, and on the show, Ina says it will be done after 24 hours, although you CAN do it up to 3 days.

Ok, this is what to do - if you're only curing it overnight, then do add 1/2 cup each of salt and sugar. If you're leaving it 2 to 3 days, use the 1/4 cup. Leave the spices the same. (Ina, get your people to make sure the recipes on the website match the shows.)

Bake to the salmon, Ina is explaining that this was an original Barefoot Contessa recipe from the previous owner. She takes the other piece of salmon and puts it right over the top of the dilled and spiced piece. She covers it with foil and places a baking dish on top. She adds 3 large cans to weight it down and into the fridge it goes. She gives us a big smile after she hauls it in there.

She moves on to the smoothie. Into a blender goes 1 1/2 cups fresh OJ, a banana, 1 cup of strawberries and the juice of one lime. She blends it and pours it into a container. Where's the booze? I guess she doesn't want to corrupt the youth the way she does her bridge partners. She tells us that the banana will keep the smoothie from separating. That's good to know.

She's going to make the batter for the blueberry muffins tonight and then bake them tomorrow morning before the girls get there. She creams 1 1/2 cups sugar with 1 1/2 sticks of butter and adds 3 extra large eggs.

This is most definitely Ina's thing - extra large eggs. Does she do it because then she can tell if someone is stealing her recipes, because NOONE else uses extra large eggs? I already told you what I do with her recipes. Maybe one day, I'll actually buy some extra large eggs and test the two versions side by side.

She adds vanilla and 8 oz. of sour cream to the batter. Now she sifts the dry ingredients together - 2 1/2 cups flour go into a strainer over a bowl followed by 2 tsps. baking powder and 1/2 tsp. baking soda. That seems like a lot of leavening. Oh but wait, she's making SIXTEEN muffins instead of the usual 12. Ina, do you always have to be the rebel and do something different? Should we call you the Bootless Agitator, instead of the Barefoot Contessa?

She mixes in the dry ingredients on a very low speed until just mixed and adds 2 pints of blueberries. Wow, that's a generous amount. Oh, I keep forgetting this weird amount she's making... She goes in with a spatula to make sure the bottom is completely mixed in. Wise move. I also have had the experience where, as I'm scooping something into the baking pan or muffin pan, I notice a completely unmixed part on the bottom.

Morning comes. Coffee's brewed. Ina peels many kiwis. She tells us when we're serving a fruit platter to "make sure (we) have wonderful fruit." As she cutting a pineapple, she tells us that she doesn't like to use the top for decoration. Yo tampoco. She saves the core for later snacking. The pineapple is cut sideways into pretty slices. Now it's time for the melon. Usually, she likes the Galia melon or Cavaillon, which is her favorite. But today the cantaloupe was the best, so that what she's using. Then she peels a mango and after cutting it free of the pit, she cuts it into wedges.

"I really rely on that old Japanese design principle, which is Sky, Earth and Water, so there's something tall, something solid in the middle and something flowing forward. It's amazing - it works everytime." And then as she arranges the fruit..."something solid that comes up - grapes, the strawberries flow forward..."

I've never heard that before and I'm not sure I'm following exactly which fruit represents what. I don't see anything that tall and WHAT'S solid? It just looks like a nice plate of fruit. Oh well, I like the IDEA that she's arranging it all with a higher purpose, I just can't figure out what it is. She finishes the arrangement with lemon leaves, then puts it in the fridge until brunch.

She oils the tops of the muffin pans and place white paper cups in. She finds the white ones more elegant. She uses a ice cream scoop and bakes them at 350 deg F. for 25 to 30 minutes. I like muffins with a crunchy, streusel-y mixture on top. I'm surprised she didn't do that.

The salmon comes out. She scrapes the stuff off of it. She's very proud of her slicing skills. She slices it until translucent...going really slowly. Let the blade do its job, then lay it "casually" on the plate.

For the mustard sauce, she mixes together mustard, 3 tbls. sugar, white wine vinegar and 1/3 cup of olive oil. She whisks this together, slowly adding the olive oil. Helloo...that's what blenders are for. She chops dill (only fresh will do) and whisks that in. (Add it after, if using a blender.) Bee-yoo-ti-ful. She's going to let everyone assemble her own sandwich.

There was an interesting article in the New York Times about how mustard loses much of its potency over time. The moral of the story is that whenever you're in France, go to the grocery store and bring back TONS of mustard. And always get the jars in which the mustard is the brightest yellow.

Big hugs for the gals. They love everything. After brunch, they ask if they can stay. Ina agrees "we're having too much fun" for them to go back to school. All in all, a very nice show, even though I still don't know if the grapes were mother earth or maybe the sky or maybe INA was the sky to their earth...?!


Heather said...

I watched this episode yesterday and I have to admit, I wasn't impressed with the muffins. I like my blueberry muffins big, with mushrrom-like tops and crunchy sugar sprinkled on before baking. Her's looked small and squishy. I wouldn't turn them down, but I wouldn't go out of my way.

Sue Gordon said...

And while we're criticizing poor Ina's muffins, I also thought the picture of them on the website was terrible. They looked like they came out of an Entenmann's box. Not that that would have been a bad thing if we were talking Popums or Danish, but NOT blueberry muffins.

jackiecat said...

Wasn't this the episode where she oiled the top of the muffin tin to keep them from sticking to the top of the tin when they "mushroomed"? I thought that was a good tip.

Sue Gordon said...

Right you are, it was a good tip...but then you don't have anything to scrape off the muffin tin as a little treat for the cook.