Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics with Ina Garten
Perfect Dinner Party
Bay Scallop Gratin
Fleur De Sel Caramels
White Chocolate Bark
(The links above were all showing error messages on the wonderful new Food Network website. I hope they sorted it all out.)
Ina is doing a dinner party in three acts. She says there's a reason behind calling a dinner party "entertaining" and that's to keep your guests amused and to keep the gathering moving, so she hosts different courses in different rooms and places.
She also says that people want to believe that you’ve whipped up the meal in the 10 minutes before they get there.
Not I. I want to think that, especially if it’s Ina’s house, that the cook has slaved all week.
Ina starts by making Fleur de Sel Caramels. She says they’ll be fun for dessert. A little too fun for my taste. I was thinking of cake, or a big pie or pudding with chocolates and cookies, and okay, if you want to add a piece of candy or two.
She puts 1½ cups of sugar in a high-sided pot with ¼ cup corn syrup and 1/2 cup of water. She stirs it and will cook it to caramel stage.
In a separate pot, Ina adds 1 cup of heavy cream and 5 tablespoons of butter with 1 teaspoon of fleur de sel. She cooks it to a simmer.
When the caramel is golden brown, Ina carefully pours in the cream and butter mixture. She uses a BIG pot, because it bubbles up furiously. She stirs it with a heavy wooden spoon and adds a teaspoon of vanilla. (Wouldn’t you add that AFTER you’ve cooked it?)
She cooks the mixture to 248°F on a candy thermometer. It will take between 5 to 10 minutes. “Keep your eye on it.” She brushes parchment, which is lining a baking tray, with a bit of vegetable oil. She pours the caramel onto it and into the fridge it goes.
Ina moves on to set the table. She repeats how she likes to keep a party moving and serve different courses in different places. She sets a long trundle table very simply.
The Contessa has removed the chilled caramel from the fridge. She sets it at room temperature to make it easier to cut. She removes the paper and rolls it up like a jelly roll, stopping halfway. She cuts it off and continues to roll the other half. She sprinkles the rolls with fleur de sel and cuts them in eighths. She wraps each caramel in parchment and tests one. She likes it.
Ina is slicing something. What IS that? Oh, it’s white chocolate. Now we’re talking...she’s making white chocolate bark. She adds ¾ of the white chocolate to a bowl and cooks it for 30 seconds in the microwave. She stirs it and then zaps it again for 30 seconds. She says to keep doing that until it’s just about melted.
She adds in the rest of the chocolate, which lowers the temperature of the already-melted chocolate. Very good point. Very astute observation from Ina. (Over-heated chocolate can seize up.) She says you can always put it back if need be for 10 seconds.
Ina spreads the melted chocolate on a baking tray lined with parchment. It doesn’t have to be perfect. “You want a casual form.”
She toasts walnuts on sheet pan in a 350°F oven for 8 minutes. I would use the microwave for that, too. After cooling, she chops them and sprinkles them on top of the chocolate. The chocolate should still be warm, so that the nuts are “embedded” in it. She chops apricots to the same size as dried cranberries. Ina sprinkles over the apricots and then ¼ cup dried cranberries.
As Ina goes shopping for appetizers, she tells us to break things up. Drink whatever wine you want, but she says she does have one rule. She never cooks more than 2 things for a dinner party.
She buys a trifecta of appetizers: Parmigiana Reggiano to serve in chunks or shards; sweet figs with salty prosciutto wrapped around them and big, meaty olives. She’ll be relaxed because “the appetizers are literally in the bag”.
Back in the kitchen, Ina slices 2 pounds of sea scallops in half, so they cook more quickly. She likes to keep it simple, she reminds us again.
She adds a little white wine to each of 6 gratin dishes. She pats the scallops dry so they brown better. She adds them to each of the dishes. That’s a lot of scallops.
She mixes together unsalted butter, chopped garlic, prosciutto, shallots, lemon juice and parsley with Pernod, kosher salt, black pepper and olive oil. Wow, Ina is a genius. That’s a topping with attitude. She folds in panko and spoons this incredible mixture on top of each dish of scallops. Again, I say wow. This is a flavor-packed addition to simple scallops. One tiny question – doesn’t the wine in the bottom of the dish “cook” the scallops?
Ina puts the caramels in a silver dish. She chops the white chocolate bark into large chunks. Friends arrive. On the porch, they pass around the appetizer goodies and drink and laugh. Where’s Jeffrey?
The Contessa excuses herself to put the scallops in the oven at 425°F for 10 to 12 minutes.
Ina turns on the coffee maker and makes a quick salad. She mixes her vinaigrette in a small bowl – 2 parts olive oil, 1 part lemon juice, a hit of Dijon mustard, plus salt and pepper. She pours it over the salad. I have to say that is ONE thing I would make in advance. I’d throw it all in the blender and make enough for the week.
A squirt of lemon juice goes over the scallops with a sprinkle of parsley. Dinner is served at the long table. I think a round one promotes easier conversation. Ina serves the wine, presumably a sauvignon blanc, which is what she used for the scallops.
Part three of The Perfect Dinner Party is served on the terrace. It actually looks like the porch, but I think it’s different. They polish off the white chocolate bark in no time. I’m not sure they liked the caramels. Oh, maybe they were chewing so much, it was hard to say anything. I have to say this trend of salt with sweets is not really my cup of tea, but they looked beautiful.
The Contessa pulled off an effortless dinner party. Even if you chose a bit more labor intensive appetizer (OR a more elaborate dessert), it would still be an easy-to-accomplish meal.
Note: For a pretty good look at the inside (and outside) of Ina’s barn, watch this FN Dish video with Bruce Seidel, the new host. (I never even knew there WAS a new host.)