Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Ina Is So Fabulous That Even When You Don't Follow Her Recipe, It's Fantastic

More about that later...

The Barefoot Contessa with Ina Garten
The Cat's Away

Roasted Asparagus with Scrambled Eggs
Jalapeno Cheddar Cornbread
Mexican Chicken Soup
Pineapple Margarita

Chocolate Orange Fondue

To get the recipes:
Click here

Ina, dear Ina...I've been away and I've missed you. It seems that's Jeffrey's going away and Ina is using his trip as an excuse for a little get-together to pass the hours until his return. Go get 'em Contessa. Party Hardy!!!

The alleged reason for this gathering is bridge, but you and I know it's just a pretext for yummy food and a big pitcher, a GREAT big pitcher, of cocktails.

Before Jeffrey leaves, Ina makes him a nice breakfast of scrambled eggs and roasted asparagus. She breaks off the asparagus where the woody stems begin. If they're super thick, she likes to peel them. She thinks the thicker ones have more flavor than the really skinny ones. She coats them (really well) with olive oil and salt and places them on a baking sheet. Don't use a roasting pan or baking dish, because they'll steam. They go into a 400 deg F. oven for 15 minutes.

If you're trying to limit your fat a bit, try this. Immerse the asparagus spears in water to which you've added 1 tablespoon of oil. Remove them from the water and place on a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt. It's amazing how well they get coated with that little bit of oil. And if you put them into a hot oven, the water doesn't seems to make them steam.

For her scrambled eggs, Ina mixes 6 eggs (for TWO of them!) with 3 tablespoonfuls of half and half. She tells us that, over the years, she's learned that the LESS liquid you add, the fluffier the eggs. I guess the rule is 1 tablespoon of liquid for every 2 eggs.

Back to the asparagus for a second. She sprinkles grated Parmesan cheese over the spears halfway through the cooking time. Gosh, they look good already...so browned and glistening.

For the scrambled eggs, Ina melts a bit of butter in a pan. (I have a French friend, who swears that the best way to cook oeufs brouill├ęs is over a double boiler, super super slowly, and that they taste amazingly rich and tender and luscious... Excuse me while I go crack few eggs.) Ina says the key is to cook them on a low heat and LISTEN HERE, she just said that the French cook them in a double boiler. Well, thank you, I must be a mind reader...She finishes up the eggs.

She places the cooked asparagus on each plate and the scrambled eggs go over. She adds a thick piece of whole wheat bread to each plate. As Jeffrey is served, he gets a bit suspicious about the excellent breakfast, so she admits she'll be entertaining gentlemen friends later.

They say goodbye with the heat of Rhett and Scarlet or maybe Liz and Dick. Really. And I don't want to hear any dissent. They are so genuinely warm and cuddly together that I want to skip out of the kitchen and grab him myself...or her.

Sorry, back to the show. He leaves and she winks "The coast is clear." Into the kitchen she goes...to start on her vat of cocktails.

Triple Sec and Tequila (A LOT) go into a pitcher. Then she adds fresh lime juice. She must have juiced 10 limes! She adds 2 1/2 cups of pineapple juice to make 4 giant cocktails. She's not kidding. There must be a pint for each person in there.

For her cornbread, Ina places flour and cornmeal in a bowl. She prefers to use medium ground. She adds 1/4 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons of baking powder and 2 teaspoons of salt, which sounds like a lot to me, but she says it's important. She melts 2 sticks of butter and whisks with 3 eggs and 2 cups of milk.

She pours the wet ingredients into a well in the middle of the dry. Stir just enough to mix. She lets the batter sit for 15 to 20 minutes. I thought that defeated the purpose of the using double acting baking powder. (You know the drill - first rise comes with adding the liquid, second with the heat of the oven.) She says to let it sit so that the cornmeal absorbs the liquid...I don't get that myself, but SHE'S the Contessa....She stirs in cheese and scallions (reserving a bit) and minced jalapenos and leaves it to sit out.

For the Mexican Chicken Soup, she roasts breasts with the bone AND skin on. She rubs them with olive oil, salt and lots of black pepper. We've seen her prepare chicken this way many times and it is wonderful. It's at the other end of the taste spectrum from a boneless, skinless chicken breast. (Unfortunately, it's also at the other end of the fat and sodium spectrum, but never mind. Just don't wolf down the whole thing.) The chicken is roasted at 350 deg F for 35 to 40 minutes.

Ina pours her cornbread batter into a greased 9" by 13" dish and smooths over the top. She sprinkles the reserved cheese and scallions on top and bakes it at 350 deg F for 30 to 35 minutes.

For the soup itself, Ina chops BIG onions, 2 cups worth, and carrots and celery. They get cooked in a large pot with 3 tablespoons of olive oil. She adds garlic, gives it one stir and then adds chicken stock, tomatoes, cumin, coriander, salt and pepper. I would rearrange the entry into the pot of those ingredients. I would add the salt when I was cooking the vegetables to encourage them to sweat. After they were nice and soft, I would add the spices and do my usual thing - cook them on low heat for 3 minutes. THEN I would add the stock and tomatoes.

However they get into the pot, Ina then thickens the soup interestingly. She adds strips of white corn tortillas, which kind of melt into it and give the soup a nice corn flavor.

It wouldn't be Ina without something extra to go on top, so she prepares toppings for the soup. (It's true the total fat count hasn't reached the luxury level yet.) She readies really good sharp cheddar cheese (grated), sour cream and avocado, plus taco chips. Then she makes shreds out of her GORGEOUS chicken and adds that to the soup. This soup is getting as opulent as a lobster bisque.

The guys arrive. They enjoy their gigantic cocktails and then soup and cornbread. They play a bit of cards, but then, c'mon, let's get real. They're really only interested in eating some more. They are at Ina's house, after all.

She goes to the kitchen to prepare dessert, a splendid chocolate orange fondue. She melts chocolate and cream in a double boiler and adds orange zest and orange liqueur with 1/2 tsp of coffee granules. (She always likes to add that with chocolate.) This is what she serves to dip into the fondue:
Strawberries, huge ones with long stems
Pound cake
DOUGHNUTS (what a GREAT idea!)
AND pretzel sticks, not little skinny mingy ones, but long, thick pretzel RODS

There are enough dipping items for 20 people. There are 5 of them. The cards get cleared away. Who are they fooling anyway?

Ina remarks that the fondue reminds her of the 60's without the "you know what". And with that, one of the boys brings out the hookah and they really get rolling...KIDDING...But I really had to think. For a minute, I thought she was talking about the other thing that the sixties were famous for.

I'm guessing our Contessa was referring to a special "herb", often added to particularly potent batches of brownies. "If Jeffrey asks", she tells the boys, "I was home alone." Don't worry, I won't say a word...

NOTE: I respectfully submit that these changes to Ina's cornbread recipe make it even better:

Use half flour and half cornmeal
Double the sugar
And if you halve the recipe, just use 2 regular eggs instead 1 1/2 extra large eggs and bake in a square 8" dish. (You know the old egg size problem with Ina's recipes.) If you're making the whole recipe, you can get away with just 3 large eggs.


Heather said...

The cornbread recipe I always use (so old, I have no idea what relative it came from) notes to pour the batter into the pan and then let it sit for 15 minutes before putting it into the oven. It seems to change the texture of teh finished product - making it more 'crumby' like a traditional cornbread.

I saw the drinks she made...sigh..I'll have to wait a few more weeks!

Sue said...

Hi Heather,

Thanks for that. I really didn't know to let my cornbread sit, although I have to admit I get annoyed with crumbly cornbread. Guess who has to clean up the crumbs?

No alcohol is a small price to pay for the many sleepless nights that await you. Seriously, that's tiny compared to all the things we give up for our kids. And mostly... it's worth it.