Friday, February 22, 2008

Ina's A Gas...No Wait, Just Her Food Is

Barefoot Contessa with Ina Garten

Baby Shower

Ina is surprising Sinead, a coworker, with a surprise baby shower. What a lucky girl!

She’s starting with Greek Gazpacho. What a fascinating idea! I’ve eaten many varieties of gazpacho in Spain and made many different versions – regular; white; with almonds; garnished with shellfish; served in giant martini glasses; even frozen, but I’ve never heard of or had GREEK gazpacho. What a nifty idea!

Ina puts 2 thick slices of stale bread in the food processor with 6 cloves of garlic. Uh, Ina, are you sure you want a pregnant lady eating that much raw garlic? She adds 2 tablespoons of roughly chopped parsley and processes the mixture until fine. She adds 5 tablespoons each of olive and red wine vinegar, reminding us that FOUR tablespoons is ¼ cup.

I knew that. You can ask me any measurement equivalence question. I went to cooking school in England when they were supposed to be going metric (but basically they refused to). I learned ounces, imperial pints, dessertspoons and punnets and pounds. Then I lived in South Africa and Spain where they were totally metric, so I learned how to deal with milliliters, grams, kilos and centimeters. In other words, I could bake a cake in any hemisphere OR north or south of the equator.

Oh wait, sorry, this isn’t about me… :-(

She pours the contents of the food processor into a big bowl. She adds a red and a yellow pepper and processes them until coarsely chopped, but not baby food, Ina says. She thinks of gazpacho as being a soup that’s really a salad. I agree.

She adds the next vegetables separately. She cuts up 2 (pretty big) red onions and processes them. (Ina, have you ever heard of pregnancy heartburn?) Into the bowl they go.

She cuts a seedless cucumber in half lengthwise and takes out any seeds that may be there. She roughly chops it in the food processor and adds it to the bowl. It looks a little too roughly chopped to me. She chops tomatoes and Kalamata olives and adds them with salt and pepper. She stirs in a big can of Sacramento tomato juice and puts it in the fridge. It looks really good...aside from the trouble the pregnant guest of honor (and her baby) will have digesting everything from the garlic and red onion to the burp-inducing cucumbers.

She’s making shortbread. I know most of you aren’t with me when I say that dry crumbly cookies just aren't my thing. She puts 1 ½ lbs. of butter (6 sticks!) in a mixer and creams it with 2 cups of sugar. Don’t overbeat it, Ina tells us. She adds 2 teaspoons vanilla and almond extract, which she likes with the pecans. She adds 7 cups of flour and a little salt and beats it on a very low heat. She makes sure it’s all mixed with a spatula. She adds 3 cup chopped pecans. (I would toast them first.)

Ina's worried that the mixture isn’t going to fit in the bowl. It does…barely. She likes to form big flat disks and then chill them before rolling, so that the dough is baked when cold, which keeps the edges nice and clean.

I have another idea. This is what I do in any rolling out situation, whether it’s pastry or cookie dough: I would place the cookie dough between two sheets of plastic wrap right after I make it. I roll it out to the desired thickness and then place the rolled out sheets in the refrigerator (or freezer if I’m doing it in advance). After it has chilled, I take it out and do whatever I need to - cut out the pie crust or cut out the cookies and then I bake it. In this case, the dough is definitely still chilled when you bake it.

Ina’s setting the table on the porch. She puts an electric train set ON the table and puts TONS of candy in the dirty cars. Well, they don’t really look that dirty, but she hasn’t lined them with anything and knowing Ina, she borrowed an antique train and the cars are probably painted with lead paint. Sinead, STAY AWAY FROM THE CANDY and everyone else of childbearing age too!

Ina takes the shortbread out of the fridge and flours her work surface and the rolling pin. She rolls it out into ¾ inch thickness. She flours her 2 inch circle cookie cutter and cuts out the cookies. They look perfect. The recipe makes 75 to 100 cookies. She bakes them at 350° F for 20 to 25 minutes on parchment. (Guess what I’d use...if I ever made these, which I won't.)

Ina bags the cookies 4 to a bag in
glassine bags for favors. She says to make sure they’re cool before you bag them. She puts the extras on plates for a rather, underwhelming I believe, dessert.

For the main course Ina zests lemons for a marinade for salmon. Wait, are pregnant ladies supposed to eat big slabs of salmon? I’m not entirely sure this was a well-thought out menu.
Oh well, the pregnant one will probably be so doubled over from indigestion from the soup that she won't even touch the salmon…

She zests 4 lemons and adds ¼ cup of olive oil, ¼ cup mustard and 4 cloves of garlic. (Yeah, I think the menu required more raw garlic.)
Oh, she also adds pepper and 1½ tablespoons of salt. Let’s not even think about those swollen ankles.

She pours this mixture over the salmon and lets it sit for 15 minutes. She cooks Yukon Gold potatoes in boiling water for 20 minutes. She drains them in a colander and places a dish towel over for 10 minutes to continue to steam them. She puts haricots verts in boiling water for 3 to 4 minutes and then shocks them in ice water.

Ina puts the salmon in a 500°F. oven for 12 to 15 minutes.

She boils eggs her special way. She puts them in a pot and covers them with water. She brings them to the boil and simmers them for 5 minutes. She turns off the heat and allows them to sit in the water for another 5 minutes. She drains them and runs cold water over them.

I don't like this method.
I think the time it takes for the water to come to the boil can vary so much from stove to stove that I prefer my own foolproof way. I bring a big pot of water to the boil. I pour in a smidgen of vinegar (white or apple cider vinegar) which will set the white immediately if an egg should crack. Then, very carefully I lower the eggs into the water. After the water comes back to the boil, I cook the eggs for exactly 11 minutes. Then I plunge them into a bowl of ice and water. Voila - perfectly cooked eggs.

Ina takes out the salmon. It can be chilled at this point. To serve it, she cuts big pieces and lays them down the middle of the platter. She puts sliced potatoes on one side and quartered tomatoes on the other side with green beans. The hard boiled eggs get fitted in as well. Ina likes big blocks of color on a serving plate, rather than a little here and there. She adds green olives and anchovies. Ina tells us that a big platter makes even simple ingredients look special.

Ina puts together a vinaigrette to pour over the dish. She whisks ¼ cup of champagne vinegar and a teaspoon of Dijon with salt and pepper and ½ cup of olive oil.

The guests arrive. The food goes on the table. Ina adds 8 oz. of feta to the gazpacho and serves it in bowls BEFORE the guest of honor arrives. I guess she realized it might not be preggie-friendly. Sinead walks in, looks more appalled than anything, and the party begins. I must say the porch area has very bad acoustics. It sounded very loud and echo-y.

One of my eagle-eyed readers pointed out that the wrapping paper appeared to match the decorations. Now, Ina, THAT’S what I call attention to detail.

Interesting menu, not necessarily the best choice for the occasion, but I’m psyched to try it. One question...where were the party games, although Sinead didn't look like she'd be too thrilled to be dressed in a giant diaper or have 15 women guess how big her belly is. You know, maybe it's for the best they skipped the games...


Sarah said...

I saw this episode and thought the same thing about the food selection for a baby shower! Kind of crazy, but if you aren't pregnant, it might taste good... :)

orphanannie said...

I love your blog! And as for the baby shower, shortbread cookies??? Where's the traditional cake? Pretty weird menu for a baby shower!

Heather said...

I don't like dry crumbly cookies either! I had a friend in 6th grade who would torture me by scraping her teeth across the back of a Nilla wafer over and over and it made me want to tear her face off.

Marty said...

Yeah. I totally sympathized with the honoree when she walked into the bizarre setup and tried to look delighted. Oh, Ina. You can do better.

Sue said...

Hi Sarah,
Yeah, it's funny. Usually the Contessa is really good about choosing which dishes to make for which people.

Hi Orphanannie,
Thanks so much.

It IS funny when you consider that she went to more trouble for the dog party she gave. Remember when she made a sheet cake and decorated it with dog sugar cookies? She could have found some baby cookies and done that. That would have been better than a toxic train on the table.

Catherine Wilkinson said...

FINALLY. Now I know exactly how to boil eggs! This little culinary Rubik's Cube has frustrated me beyond belief. I've tried many different ways...yours makes perfect sense. No more voodoo water boiling for me!

Emiline said...

I wish I could keep you in my house so you could translate measurements for me.

WHY doesn't Ina toast her nuts?! That irritates me.

I like shortbread cookies, but I agree with Orphanannie; it's all about the cake!

Those are some bold flavors for a baby shower. Aren't you supposed to have little sandwiches and crackers? Or maybe that's high tea.

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

I thought it was an odd menu for a baby shower too, but skipping the games is a great idea. I find it rather dull to have to go through endless rounds of baby bingo.

Is wrapping paper to match the decorations attention to detail, or is it veering into Sandra Lee territory with the outfits that match the curtains?

Sue said...

Hi Heather!
You just made me realize it’s not dry and crumbly I hate, it’s shortbread. I love vanilla wafers!

But you reminded me of these kids in grade school. They brought egg salad sandwiches for lunch (WHO does that?) and they would always drink a big gulp of milk from their thermoses (that’s how long ago I was in 6th grade) and it would all kind of mush out of their mouths. SO gross.

Poor gal…I’m confused by that menu. It was just wrong.

Hi. It is a great and foolproof way to hard boil eggs. Plus you kind of crack the shell while they’re still immersed in the water and you get no sticking!

I’m there for you.

About Ina’s nuts…I know, it doesn’t make sense and the other thing is not using fresh nutmeg.

YOUR shortbread is probably passable, but don’t waste it on me. Make me something else.

High tea is high tea. A baby shower is supposed to ladylike food too, (but not tea sandwiches). Perhaps a delicate chicken salad or miniature biscuits with ham…stuff like that. And a cake.

Hey Shortie,
I thought games were dumb too until I gave a baby shower and I was told games were required. (It’s possible I was the one that said that – I don’t remember).

We played the hold-a-huge-stuffed-animal-that-was-supposed-to-represent-a-baby-in-one-hand-AND-a-cell-phone-under-your-chin-AND-hang-up-tiny-baby-clothes-on-the-line-with-your-other-hand-AND-take-them-off game…WITHOUT dropping the baby. The only one who could do it was the mother of six…It WAS fun. In fact, I’d like to play that game again, baby shower or no baby shower.

Tracy said...

Your post didn't disappoint! I too thought the shortbread was an underwhelming dessert. I thought the train ON the party table would be distracting, but didn't even think about the candy being in dirty cars. After the disappointing dessert, the guests may have tried to grab some as the train went by!

And gee, thanks for the credit for noticing the wrapping paper. Those presents just didn't look like anything I had received at any of my baby showers.

Oh, baby games: the most popular in our circles were "guess what each jarred baby food is." Funny.

Meg said...

I recently saw this episode after learning that my sister was having a baby...Her doctor also told her NOT to eat Feta which was in the "soup" and also to avoid salmon which was the main course...

...Needless to say, not one of Ina's best...I think that crazy chocolate cake that she made for Michael would be wayyyy better.

Sue said...

That does sound like a fun game and kind of gross too.

That is interesting. I just can't imagine what Ina was thinking. I agree that chocolate cake is rarely a mistake, although I didn't eat chocolate, but that was probably an old wive's tale.