Sunday, October 19, 2008

Welcome Back, Ina

Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics with Ina Garten

Steak and Sides
Steakhouse Steaks
Sautéed Wild Mushrooms
Cornmeal-Fried Onion Rings

I admit I was a little anxious before I turned on the brand new season of the Contessa. It had been so long since there had been a new show. Would Ina remember me? Would I remember her? I shouldn’t have worried. It was as if we had been together the entire summer. She greeted me as warmly as…well, before and I felt as if we never missed a beat. She was her old wonderful self in the same beautiful setting with a slightly different spin on things. (C’mon, tell me you didn’t feel the same nervous excitement to see the Contessa again.)

We start with Ina driving in her car, telling us she’s going back to basics “Barefoot Style”. She’s going to turn up the volume on some classic recipes, this time from a steak house. AND, oooh, TR will be joining her today. Goodie!

Even her theme song has undergone a revision. I’m not sure if I prefer it to the old version, but I do love the new opening sequence (I want that cake!) of her jollily entertaining her friends and cuddly Jeffrey.

Continuing to talk to us from her car, Ina says “a great steak dinner is made up of three parts: a great steak, of course, a great sauce AND great vegetable dishes.”

She goes on to explain the entire raison d’être of this new season. “When I think about back to basics”, she says, “It’s not about inventing something new. It’s about taking something classic – changing an ingredient, a process, something that gives it great flavor. And still making it really simple to make.”

That’s a tall order, but I think the Contessa is up to the challenge.

Into the market she goes to choose the steaks. She’ll be cooking them “restaurant style” – seared on top of the stove and then into the oven, which, Ina says, requires a 2 inch thick piece of meat. Bill, the butcher, gets her perfect filet mignons. They’re cut from the whole filet of beef tenderloin, “small and lean and delicious and very tender.”

Ina arrives back at the barn. (It still looks brand new.) She blots the outside of the steaks with paper towels, so they sear perfectly. She brushes a little vegetable oil on the outside and measures out a tablespoon (that’s OUR Ina!) of fleur de sel, which she says has a softer flavor than regular salt. She adds a tablespoon of coarsely cracked pepper to the salt.

She shows us how to grind peppercorns in a coffee mill. “Why make it hard, when you can make it easy?” (Because you don’t want to clean out the coffee mill?) Ina stirs together the salt and pepper and dips the steaks in the mixture to coat them well. Okay, that amount of salt is appropriate then…She says the key is searing them is using a very hot cast iron skillet. No oil necessary.

Ina tells us that her assistant, Barbara, usually “road tests” her recipes to see how well they work. This time, TR will be trying the recipe. That works out well for all of us. She also sears the sides of the steaks, which seals in all the juices. It takes a bit of time, 10 minutes, to sear them well. She pops a teaspoon of butter on top (of course, she does) “to make sure they’re really good.” They go into a 400°F oven. She writes down everything she does.

After 8 minutes, she tests the steaks with an instant read thermometer.

Oh, I thought she might give us the tip of the nose trick, where it should feel like the cartilage on the tip of your nose. But no, straight science for Ina.

For medium rare, the reading should be 125°F to 130°F; rare should be 120°F and well done 135°F to 140°F. She covers the filets with foil and lets them rest for 5 minutes.

TR comes strolling into the kitchen. I could do without the facial hair, but he does look quite dapper. As he hugs Ina, he says "Hello, stranger.” At least, I think he did. Hmmm, did they NOT have cocktails over the summer or card parties or barbecues on the beach? Maybe he was too busy filming car commercials. Wait, no, he says “Hi SWEETIE”, not hello stranger. Oh, thank goodness.

“Make a steak and a man shows up!” Ina exclaims. She feeds him a piece. He loves it. She sends him to the store to pick up a cast iron skillet and some Roquefort.

There’s a commercial for the new Food Network Magazine. They make it look really good. I may have to subscribe, but I’ve been holding off.

Ina is revisiting sautéed mushrooms. She says sometimes it’s just about changing up the ingredients a bit. We rewind back to the store where she’s buying portobellos, crimini and shitakes. Those are gorgeous.

Back at home, Ina uses a sponge to brush off the dirt. It’s one of those exploding sponges from William-Sonoma. I really hope that’s a dedicated mushroom sponge, because that would be kind of gross if it weren’t. She doesn’t say whether it is or not.

Ina likes the delicate flavor of shallots with the mushrooms, because they don’t overpower them. She stirs a cup of chopped shallots into hot oil and cooks them for 5 to 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, Ina stems the portobellos. She slices them and then the shitakes and the crimini, which, Ina says, look like the button ones, but have more flavor.

Ina adds half a stick of butter to the shallot pan and stirs in the 2 pounds of mushrooms. She adds 2 teaspoons of salt and a ½ teaspoon of pepper. She coats them well with butter and oil and cooks them on medium heat for 8 minutes.

(Remember MC’s trick. Don’t bother the mushrooms. Leave them alone so they brown nicely on one side. If you keep stirring them, they end up looking tepid.)

TR takes his huge car to go shopping. (I don’t know if it’s a Volvo or not, but it’s BIG.) He picks up the skillet at a hardware store.

Back to Ina, she adds 2 tablespoons fresh garlic to the mushrooms and cooks that for just a minute. She chops up lots of flat leaf parsley and adds one cup to the pan with “lots” of salt. She tastes. Perfect. She takes a picture for TR.

Ina tells us that TR said the menu had to have something crunchy. So she decided on onion rings “restaurant style” with a cornmeal crust. She likes to use Spanish onions, because they’re sweet. She separates the thick rings of onion and drops them into a bowl.

She shakes up the buttermilk and pours 2 cups right on top of the onion rings. Ina adds 1½ teaspoons of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper. She mixes it all together with her hands.

Ina heats one quart of vegetable oil in a big pot and places a candy thermometer in. (I would like more guidance when she says “vegetable oil”.)

She mixes together (also with her clean hands) 1½ cups of flour, ¼ cup of stone ground yellow cornmeal and 1 teaspoon of salt with ½ teaspoon of pepper. She drains the onion rings slightly and then dunks them in the flour mixture and throws them into the oil. (Be careful, Contessa).

Ina tells us that you can make the onion rings in advance and keep them warm in the oven for ½ hour. Using tongs, she turns them a bit in the oil. They take about 2 minutes to cook. She drains them on paper towels. (Remember what I do? Newspaper underneath to save the paper towels) OMG, those look good.

Oh, you can’t do the newspaper thing, because she has a sheet of parchment under the paper towel. She does a nifty switcheroo, where she lifts up the paper towel to reveal the parchment underneath. They’ll sit on that while they stay warm in the oven.

Ina sprinkles them with “LOTS” of salt. “That’s all part of the pleasure, isn’t it?” (I guess you might not think that when you’re on the dialysis machine, but let’s live for today!) She takes a picture for TR and they go into the oven at 200°F, where they can stay for up to half an hour.

TR is shopping for the Roquefort. Ina makes the sauce. She pours 1 1/2 cups heavy cream into a pot to reduce.

There is a healthy eating tip from Ellie during the commercial. Do they think we especially need it during this particular half hour?

We’re back and TR is in the kitchen taking notes. Ina adds 2 ounces of Roquefort to the cream. (How is TR supposed to know how much 2 ounces is? Ina doesn’t suggest weighing it. She just cuts a chunk off.) She stirs the Roquefort in to melt. ½ teaspoon salt goes in with ¼ teaspoon pepper and 1 tablespoon of fresh chopped chives.

Ina turns off the heat and pours it a gravy boat. “Come to me baby,” she purrs to TR, so he can taste the sauce. They both love it. She picks up her camera to take “another beauty shot”.

Hold on a sec. The idea of taking a quick picture so that TR can duplicate the recipe is okay, I guess, but, to be honest, it kind of annoys me (just a tiny bit). I can’t remember which food blogger (with fantastic photos) I was reading, but she said she might take as many as 100 pictures to get just the right shot. Obviously, Ina isn’t publishing these pictures, but I would have liked to have seen her take just a bit more time. I know I’m being silly, but good food photos take time. BTW, I don’t take nearly that many pictures, but maybe I should, since I often feel I don’t get the right shot.

Ina bids TR farewell with a nice kiss. He gets home to start his “Barefoot Extravaganza. “ He starts the steaks, goes on to the mushrooms and then gets to the sauce. TR fries his onion rings and then compares the color to Ina’s photo. (So I guess the pictures did come in handy.) The onion rings look good.

Ina’s at the computer typing up her recipe. TR serves dinner on the porch to a lady-friend, Beth. It does look superb. She doesn’t believe that TR cooked it. She says she’s sure Ina did it.

TR calls Ina to tell her it went great. She says she knew it would.

How did I like the start of Ina’s new season? I liked it. The earth didn’t move, but I felt right at home back with the one I love. She reinforced many things that I already knew. She put the recipes together in such an effortless way that I’m sure I’m not the only to feel that a steak dinner with those classic sides would be easy to accomplish and ever so delicious.


Anonymous said...

I am a huge fan of Ina's and will even watch repeats of her shows just to watch her - but I didn't love this new show.

Something seemed off for me. Maybe it was that so much time has passed. Maybe it was the slight change to the music or her new approach to the show. I can't seem to put my finger on it.

Of course, I plan on watching every show!

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

You left me hanging for a while. You did your countdown post and then I was thinking, "Well...where is the review?" Okay. I'm a little dorky for waiting breathlessly for your review of the new season, but it is a tribute to your fine reviewing skills.

That's funny about Ellie's healthy eating tip in the middle of that show with the steak and the cream and the fried onions.

Sue said...

Interesting, Anon, that you felt that way. As I said, this wasn't a gangbuster of a show, just very good. Maybe it was just TR's facial hair that was off-putting.

Ah Rachel,
You caught me! Truth to tell, I WASN'T HOME when Ina was on! Isn't that outrageous? It was either watch Ina live (or at least on time) or have a reunion with a long-lost cousin. I opted for the reunion. (Don't tell Ina.) And my countdown clock was accomplished through the miracle of modern blogging. Gawd, can't anyone get anyway with anything anymore?!!

You not dorky, you're just wonderful.

Anonymous said...

I didn't realize how much I missed Ina until the new show aired...and TR was just a bonus!

Sue said...

Hey Anon,
Isn't it wonderful that she's back? Yup, TR was great, but I really love him clean-shaven.

Laurie said...

OK Sue.. I have to confess, I don't have cable TV.. so no Food Network for me. :( So your it baby.. my link to all the shows I desperately miss! :)
Last time I watched the Contessa.. she wasn't doing much differently than it sounds now. Her recipes still sound well explained but not outragious, that is what I appreciate about her.
TR is new.. I didn't know she had a side kick. What I do like, (it could be different or it could be the same) is that the show has TR going home and preparing the meal that she made! That kinda reinforces the art of a cuisine-heiress! To have her student follow up what they have learned.. well! I like that about the episode. Thank you for your re-telling of the episode!! Great review Sue!

Ciao and hugs..

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the fill in. I do love her!

Emiline said...

I'm glad you watched the show, because I forgot.

I don't get who T.R. is... why is he on the show? I Googled him and I still don't know. He was in Sex and the City?
I like facial hair.

Onion rings are one of my favorite foods. Everything sounds so good!
I'm surprised she added salt to the cheese sauce... isn't Roquefort pretty salty?
I guess that wouldn't stop her.

I know Peabody shoots about 100 photos for each post.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad they rerun the weekend's new show on Mondays at 5! I agree about the change in tempo and arrangmenet of the music, not sure I like it either, but it was a pleasure to see Ina back. The show was beautifully put together, as usual, and I loved the way the onion rings looked. Little touches make a difference -- like the way she pointed out that these mushrooms aren't picked in the wild anymore. Personally, I'd love to see her talk a little bit more about where our food comes from, but that's just the enviro in me coming out.

Speaking of coming out, it was great seeing TR releasing his inner queen after that Bond-ish car commercial. Way to go, honey, and just another reason to love Ina for putting all her gay friends on TV!


DebCarol said...

I'm back after a long absence. Guess Ina's return lured me in :^) Loved your review (almost better than the show). I wish . . . that Jeffrey had been in the season opener instead of TR. And I REALLY miss the old music. New music is bland and generic. But Ina looks fabulous and the food to die for. So I'm hooked again ~ I'll be glued to every new show.

Adam said...

Well, Sue I am very sorry, but due to traveling... I missed the show. But... with your great review I felt like I was there. Your enthusiasm is contagious, I love it.

I will start to DVR all of them though... my mother and I enjoy tons of her recipes.

Jude said...

I love Ina Garten... So low key unlike the other FN "personalities." More importantly.. she really knows how to cook.

Sue said...

Hi Laurie,
I better do a good job if I'm your only link to the Contessa.

TR is just an occasional friend. He won't be there every week. I would imagine each week will be a different entertaining situation. She has so many friends, she has to get them all in. But we love our TR.

Thanks, Candy.
Ina's my fav.

Ah, Em, you have so much to learn. TR Pescod is the Contessa's actor/model/hottie friend. Don't you remember the riveting episode last season when he pretended to catch fish for Ina to cook? He's around quite a bit...but never when Jeffrey is there. Hmmm.

The food did look awesome.

Maybe that's who I was reading about the photos.

Hi Tom,
Yeah, our Barefooted One did a pretty good job. She does do a lot of local sourcing of her ingredients, so she certainly could talk about that.

TR is always adorable and sooo good-looking.

Welcome back, DC!
You’re too nice.

I always love Jeffrey, but a little eye-candy is okay too. The old music was classic and so Ina. This theme may take a while to grow on us. But her food is off to a good start.

Hi Adam,
I know the feeling, but get that DVR organized…And thanks for the nice words, Ina always makes me feel so welcome that it's easy to write about her.

Hey Jude,
Don’t make it bad…Sorry, I just had to say that. I’m sure that’s the 300th time you’ve heard that...this hour!!!

I agree with you, there’s no grimacing when watching Ina. You don’t have to wonder what horror she’s going to pull out of the pantry next; or turn down the volume when she's talking.

Anonymous said...

was wondering if you might know the names of the guest she had onthe perfect dinner episode last week where she made the scallop dish, the no cook apps and the carmels and white choc bark candy? i am looking or the names of the female guests,

Anonymous said...

I love your site, and I love INA! I'm enjoying the new show, especially the instructional sections. Mainly because they aren't instructional, but like she is just talking to me like I'm one of her BFF's. I finally conquered my uneasiness at carving a chicken after watching her last episode!

Speaking of, did you love how Jeffery just kept appearing out of nowhere...gotta admit, I missed him too!

I am drooling over the new barn kitchen. In her new book, she even lists credits as to where she got what!

Glad I found your blog!