Monday, December 10, 2007

Ina Misses A Step, Or Maybe I Should Just Relax

Barefoot Contessa with Ina Garten
Night Before Dinner

This was an old episode, so there was no opportunity to view the new barn. Darn! It's going to be an old barn, before we have a chance to see it.

Ina is having folks for dinner on a busy day, so she's putting together a menu that can be made in advance.

She has 2 rules for entertaining: The first is to SERVE COCKTAILS. The second is to serve things that have been made in advance. Gratins work well for that.

For a cauliflower gratin, she boils 3 pounds of cauliflower florets for 5 to 6 minutes. Then she heats 2 cups of milk and grates some Gruyere. She makes a white sauce by melting 2 tablespoons of butter and stirring in 3 tablespoons flour. The mixture gets cooked. Ina fearlessly pours in all the milk at once, and cooks until thick. She was able to do this because she was using hot milk. If it had been cold, it could have lumped terribly. She adds salt and pepper, and (not fresh) nutmeg, plus 1/2 cup Gruyere and 1/2 cup Parmesan.

Her proportions for a white sauce are interesting. She obviously finds that equal parts of butter and flour just don't give her the thickness she requires, so she ups the flour by one tablespoon. Not a bad idea.

The cauliflower is drained.

She brings over an 8 by 11 dish for the gratin. She spoons some of the sauce in the bottom and the cauliflower goes on top. Ina covers that with the rest of the sauce. Then she makes a crumb topping of 1/4 cup breadcrumbs and 1/4 cup of Gruyere. She sprinkles that on top and drizzles over 2 tablespoons of melted butter. I think I would mix the butter with the crumbs and cheese, just to ensure I didn't have any dry patches of just crumbs on the top. She puts it in the fridge to be baked the next day.

She gathers her green vegetables. Ina cuts off the ends of the asparagus and blanches them in bolling water. She lifts them out using a Chinese strainer and puts them into ice water to stop the cooking and set the color. Julia would approve. The string beans get trimmed and blanched. They are removed to the ice water. Broccolini goes in..and out...and finally sugar snap peas go in for 60 seconds and join the others in the ice water. Ina drains them and puts them in the fridge to await their final sautéing just before dinner.

She planned a parfait for dessert in tall glasses. Guess what she's making? PUMPKIN MOUSSE! Luckily, I don't see any bananas around. She dissolves a packet of gelatin in 1/4 cup of dark rum. While that's soaking, she mixes together 1 can of pumpkin purée with 1/2 cup each of white and brown sugars, 2 egg yolks, 2 teaspoons of orange zest, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (I would add more), and a quarter teaspoon of not freshly ground nutmeg. She heats the gelatin over hot water, stirs until all cloudiness is gone. She stirs that into the pumpkin mixture until well incorporated.

Ina whips 1 1/2 cups heavy cream with a splash of vanilla on high speed. and folds it into the pumpkin mixture. She draws a large spatula through the middle of the bowl, folds it over and turns the bowl. She repeats this until the cream is mixed in well. Okay, wait a second...Did I miss a step here?

What happened to COOKING the egg yolks and pumpkin until thickened, BEFORE adding the gelatin and whipped cream? How do you call this a mousse, without the first step of COOKING the yolks with the other flavorings until thick? I have seen recipes where the yolks and sugar might be beaten for ages until light and yellow and thick. But I have never seen them stirred together casually before the melted gelatin is added.

In fact, in most cases, you don't even heat the gelatin. The warmth from the pan will dissolve it. Well, I'm a little baffled. The reviews on the website say the orange zest was kinda nasty and that there wasn't enough whipped cream to do the layers, but nothing about the abbreviated cooking method. Hmmm...

Ina whips more cream for the parfait...this time it's sweetened. She whips 1 cup of heavy cream with 1 tablespoon sugar and 1 teaspoon "good vanilla". She gets out tall narrow glasses...are those champagne flutes? I can't really tell.

She fills the pumpkin mousse, remember the UNCOOKED mousse, into a pastry bag and squirts it into the bottom of each glass. That's really smart. It keeps the sides of the glass clean. Then she layers in some whipped cream (a piping bag would have been a good idea here too) and sprinkles over some crumbled ginger snaps. More pumpkin, cream, snaps. She does the last layer of pumpkin with a little dollop of cream on top, and lastly a ginger snap to garnish. (I would have garnished the parfait at the last minute. )

Ina asks, "Doesn't that look like a party?" It DOES, even if I wouldn't serve it to the infirm or very young on account of the uncooked egg yolks. (Don't I sound just like Debbie Downer?)

The Contessa is stuffing a loin of pork for the main course. She cuts up 2 cups of onion and fennel and adds them to a sauté pan with butter and oil. She cooks the mixture for 15 minutes until tender. She chops fresh thyme and garlic to add later, so it doesn't burn. Ina gives the pan a really good tossy toss. We don't see her doing that that much. She doesn't need to show off like the Alpha males of the FN, whom, incidentally, I LOVE to watch swirling their pans.

She adds the thyme and garlic with salt and pepper and then deglazes the pan with wine. The recipe says you can also use Pernod. I love Pernod in a recipe if I'm sitting in a French fishing village in a cable knit sweater, eating bouillabaisse with fish caught just moments ago by the chef, swilling wine from a tumbler. Otherwise, I'll deglaze with the wine.

For fresh breadcrumbs for the stuffing, Ina cuts the crust off white bread and dices it. That gets processed until fine. She asked butcher to butterfly the pork. She salts and peppers it well. She adds 3 cups of crumbs to the onion and fennel and spoons the mixture over the pork.

She tells us that if we're making this in advance, the filling must be cool. She rolls the pork up and ends with the fat side up. She ties it with butcher string every 2 inches or so. She rubs on a bit (whoops, a lot) of olive oil and salt and pepper. She puts it in a sheet pan into the fridge. Uh oh, I have a slight problem here. Do you really want to make a dish in advance that has bread stuffing ? I thought it was the bread that went bad. EVEN if it's completely cooled, is that safe? Ok, Ina says it is, but I have my doubts (wah wah).

She puts the loin of pork in a 425° oven for 30 minutes, and then turns it down to 350° for 20 to 30 minutes until the meat, not the stuffing, registers 137°. The cauliflower goes in at 375° for 25 to 30 minutes.

Friends arrive. They drinking champers. Ina asks Frank for help in the kitchen. He removes the string and slices the pork. She cooks shallots with oil and butter and add the blanched vegetables. They cook quickly. Ina plates the pork and vegetables and Frank carries them out. She follows with the cauliflower. They enjoy everything. Sweet Jeffrey says there are people all over America who don't eat cauliflower, but would if they tried this.

The pumpkin parfaits come out to applause. Those glasses really look glamorous and the parfaits look spectacular. Maybe skipping a step here and there isn't such a bad idea. The proof is in the parfaits...


JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

Hmmm that does sound like an interesting mousse. But hey, I guess it worked for her guests - although they are likely getting paid to say how wonderful it is, so who knows?

Emiline said...

I hope they don't get food poisoning. Wah wahhhh....

She so missed a step. Maybe they cut it out because they couldn't fit it into the 30 minute show.

What are the rules when you make roux? Is it always add hot-to-hot? If you were making gumbo, you would do the same?

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Well, I'd eat just about anything covered in cream sauce and cheese too! ;-D

Tom said...

I don't want to see the barn. It reminds me of the old Martha Stewart Thanksgiving show, where she took us in her dish room and then served dinner in her barn. We all know Ina has lots of money and lives in the Hamptons, but did she have to go all conspicuous consumption on us?

Cynthia said...

I want to see the barn. I have not seen it yet.

Sue said...

Hi Jenn,
No, say it isn't so! Her guests are sitting around her table because they love HER and her food. I refuse to believe anything else. And those parfaits looked like showstoppers, so I guess her strange recipe worked out.

Hello Emiline,
That's the weird thing. I don't think she missed a step. She just left it out and it IS really strange.

Yes, strictly speaking, one should always add hot to hot. This also allows you to heat the milk with a bay leaf, an onion end and a few peppercorns.Then you strain the milk onto the roux. It's amazing how you can pack a bit of extra flavor into a white sauce this way.

I'm with you, Shortie!!!

Hi Tom,
I know some people have a problem with Ina's affluence, but I've never felt she rubbed our faces in it. In fact, her house isn't a mansion. The gardens are Versaille-like, but she normally eats at a table in the living room!

Hi Cyn,
I know, I want to see it too. But I'm getting the feeling that they decorated the new kitchen to look like the old one, so they can interchange the repeats without it looking too outlandish. I hope we'll KNOW it when we see it.