Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics with Ina Garten
Steak and Sides
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.