Monday, October 8, 2007

Friday Night Rites

The Barefoot Contessa with Ina Garten

It's Friday Night Again
Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes
Chicken Piccata
Herb-Roasted Onions
Apple and Pear Crisp

To get the recipes:
Click here

Ina loves to make roast chicken for Jeffrey when he comes home on Friday nights after a long week of work. Lately, she says, she's been trying other chicken recipes, just to mix it up a bit. Today, she's making chicken wiith a twist "with every man's favorite vegetable - mashed potatoes." And she's making a fruit crisp, which she finds much easier than a pie.

She peels 2 lbs. of fuji apples and 2 lbs. of Bosc pears. Wow, that is A LOT of fruit. She cuts everything into big chunks because she want to be able to really taste the fruit. Ina adds orange zest and some fresh orange juice to the fruit, reminding us to always to zest the orange BEFORE cutting. That sounds obvious, but who among us hasn't done that? We forget we need the zest and have to grate the rind of a sticky and slippery used orange half. She also adds lemon zest and juice (for which the same lesson applies obviously) and sugar. She piles all the fruit into a baking dish. (I like to butter or Pam my dish.)

The topping of the crisp is so quick and easy that there really isn't an excuse NOT to make it regularly. Ina combines brown sugar, oats, flour, cinnamon and nutmeg in a mixer. Why she doesn't grate her own nutmeg, I cannot say, but she DOES say to always use fresh spices. (Nothing is fresher than grinding your own nutmeg.)

She adds 2 sticks of diced COLD butter and mixes everything until crumbly. Ina spoons the topping over the fruit, trying "to cover the whole top, so the fruit is protected." She bakes it at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 50 minutes. She says she loves having that wonderful baked apple smell when Jeffrey comes home.

Ina walks into the garden...for herbs, perhaps? No, she digs up some pretty blue flowers with bulbs on the end. She washes the dirt from the bulbs and puts them in vases on a wicker tray and puts the whole thing on the table. I could see an arrangement like this at an outside table perhaps, but inside? Plus she says she can plant the bulbs again in the fall. Who but the Contessa, and maybe Martha, is going to dig up some flowers to put them on the table only to have to replant them?...

On to the potates. Ina loves the flavor or Yukon Golds. She peels them and cuts them in large cubes. They get cooked in boiling salted water for 10 minutes.

For the onion dish, Ina decides to use two red and one white onion. She cuts them in wedges, keeping most of the root end on, so that the pieces stay together. She wants to roast them to bring out their sweetness.

She mixes up a quick vinaigrette to flavor them while cooking: lemon juice, Dijon, garlic, fresh thyme, salt and pepper, and olive oil. Ina tosses the onions in the vinaigrette and puts them on a sheet pan. She saves the vinaigrette left in the bowl to toss on the onions later. She tells us that you couldn't put a marinade, which had been on uncooked meat, on the meat after it's cooked, but with vegetables it's fine. I agree.

She cooks the onions at 400 deg f. for 35 to 40 minutes.

We spy cute Jeffrey driving home. Somehow Ina knows exactly where he is and how much time she has before dinner.

She drains the potatoes and puts them in a food mill with a big blade. She sometimes uses a mixer (I always do), but she likes the smoothness the food mill gives her. She stirs in heated milk and butter. Then she shakes the buttermilk very well and stirs in about half a cup very slowly until she gets to the desired consistency. She doesn't heat the buttermilk or it would curdle. She adds pepper and 1 teaspoon of salt. (That's pretty restrained for Ina.)

She puts the bowl of mashed potates over boiling water, which is an excellent way to keep them hot. If they thicken too much, you can beat in a bit more hot milk.

Ina does a classic coating on the chicken breasts - flour, egg and crumb. She adds salt and pepper to the flour. I would rather have seen her salt and pepper the chicken to make sure it's seasoned well. (Oh, wait...the RECIPE says to season the chicken. Never mind what Ina does on the show.)

First, though, she pounds out the chicken breasts to between a quarter and a half inch thick, using a skinny rolling pin. She gives us a very good tip, which is to make sure to pound the chicken in 2 directions, so it's smooth and evenly thin.

Ina adds oil to a large NON nonstick frying pan and, while it's heating, she coats her chicken. (Remember my tip to use just one hand, so you have the other handy for emergencies - answering the phone, swigging your margarita, whatever...) She browns the piccata beautifully on one side, turns it over, and browns the other side, about 2 minutes per side. She adds a little more oil before frying the next piece of chicken. She keeps them warm on a baking sheet in a 200 degree oven for about 10 minutes.

Ooh, Jeffrey's home. "The weekend starts now." Isn't she the cutest? I love the glimmer in her eye when she talks about Jeffrey. I get that glimmer too.. when I think about the last perfect Cosmo I had or the last incredible dessert I made or...oh, yeah, H(usband).

Ina's opening a bottle of wine. She wipes out the chicken pan. She heats butter with the juice of 2 lemons and adds some wine and salt and pepper. She adds the used lemon halves to the sauce for flavor and reduces the mixture by half. To finish the dish, she chops parsley and thinly slices a lemon. Ina always likes the garnish to reflect what's in the dish, which is the right way to do it. You want a little bit of a preview of the taste when you look at the plate.

The onions come out of the oven and get dressed with the remaining vinaigrette. Ina plates the chicken and pours over a bit of sauce. She adds the lemon slices and chopped parsley to the top. She serves the roasted onion and the mashed potates on each plate.

Jeffrey is happily anticipating chicken for dinner, but what kind is a mystery. He loves her choice. He says it's just as good as roast chicken. "After a meal like this, I wish there was more than one Friday night in every week." Sweet and so true.

Was this meal terribly exciting? Not really. Was it a perfectly prepared rendition of some old standards that always satisfy? Yes, absolutely. And while there were no fireworks (not until after dinner, anyway), we know that the Contessa came up with a winner that will keep HER H(usband) coming home happy on many future Friday nights.


Emilie said...

Gotta love that fresh nutmeg!

2 sticks of butter!!!

I wonder what kind of car Jeffrey drives? Something fancy, I'm sure. Maybe Jeffrey calls Ina every 10 minutes to tell her where he's at.

Anonymous said...

Ina's Chicken Piccata is a new favorite in my home. I'm going to have to try the herb-roasted onions with mashed potatoes, perhaps on a night when we can beach ourselves on the couch after dinner, happily fed with remote in hand.

Sue said...

Hi Em,

It does have 2 sticks of butter, but it is enough fruit to feed 12 people.

If I knew anything about cars, I could tell you what he drives. Ina too, but a BMW looks like a Mercedes looks like a Lexus to me. I'm more concerned about the color and how many cup holders a car has.

Jeffrey is so adorable, he probably does call his Ina regularly.

Hi Lori,

That is a wonderful, all-purpose, always-good recipe, isn't it? I love her.

Cynthia said...

Ina and Jeffrey are so in love with each other and it radiates everytime we see them together.

Sue said...

Hi Cynthia,

I know! They are so adorable together.