Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I Love, Worship And Respect Ina, But I’m Not Sure I’m On Board This Week

Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics with Ina Garten

Thanksgiving Countdown
Herb-Roasted Turkey Breast
Homemade Gravy
Sausage and Herb Stuffing
Celery Root and Apple Puree

The Food Network is doing a much better job than I am at getting organized for Thanksgiving. There have been slews of Thanksgiving shows with lots of turkey tips. Here are some of the T-Day shows that have been on:

Sunny made a turkey breast.

The Neelys smoked a turkey and served it with barbecue sauce.

Giada is cooking “Los Angeles” style. Does that mean she cooks in her bikini while sipping cucumber infused water and nibbling on some “green” recycled appetizer?

And Ina…

She says has the answers to the toughest turkey questions. She tells the story of her friend who was cooking her first Thanksgiving and set her oven on CLEAN. Yikes!

After showing some Thanksgiving video questions from her viewers, Ina says she starts cooking the day before Thanksgiving, so everything is organized before the company arrives. The day before??!!! How about 2 or 3 WEEKS before?!!

Ina says she doesn’t do that anymore and that everything is done by the night before. BUT she’s doing 2 things that I definitely don’t do…and maybe you don’t either. She’s making a turkey breast, not a whole turkey and she’s cooking her stuffing outside of the turkey.

She unapologetically takes a 6 to 7 pound turkey breast out of the fridge and puts it on a baking rack. She makes an herb rub that starts with 1 tablespoon minced garlic and 2 teaspoons dry mustard. Then she chops 1 tablespoon fresh sage and rosemary and 1 teaspoon fresh thyme all together.

(Leave the thyme out overnight, Ina says, and the leaves dry out enough to crumble nicely.)

She adds the herbs to the garlic and mustard with 2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon of and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Ina adds a teaspoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice to give it a bit of an edge. (I was thinking some orange zest would be good too.)

I love that Ina puts the mixture under and over the skin of her turkey breast. She shows us how to loosen the skin without puncturing it. I like to push a wooden spoon under the skin, which helps to separate the skin from that membrane-y thing.

This turkey breast will serve 6 people, she says. She lets it sit in the fridge overnight covered with foil. She will just add a bit of white wine to the pan before cooking.

More questions, this time about vegetables, from viewers. Ina says she likes to serve 2 vegetable dishes, one a “star” dish, the other in a “supporting role”. She’s smart, this Contessa. She quickly shows us 3 recipes – string beans, carrots and butternut squash before moving on to the star - celery root and green apple purée.

Ina cuts up one cup of fennel root. It goes into butter with 3 Golden Delicious apples and half a pound of Yukon gold potatoes, which have been peeled and cut into chunks.

She cuts the peel off the ugly celery root (or celeriac), cuts it in half and into large chunks. That goes into the pan. She adds 1½ teaspoons of salt, ½ teaspoon of pepper, and cooks the mixture for 5 to 7 minutes until the vegetables start to soften.
Then Ina adds ½ cup apple cider, covers it and simmers for 30 to 40 minutes.

Ina takes out the shiniest, most luxurious looking food mill I’ve ever seen. It looks like sterling silver, polished for the Queen of England...I have my food mill in the same drawer as my hammer. I have to say that my hammer gets more use, but when you need a food mill, NOTHING else will do, so it is an essential piece of kitchen equipment.

Ina adds a quarter cup of cream to the celery root mixture. Then it goes into the food mill. She says you can also use a blender or a food processer. Hold on! I know this mixture is NOT predominantly potatoes, but I still would NEVER put any purée with potatoes into a food processor. It will come out like glue. And if this is the featured vegetable on Thanksgiving, I don’t want to screw around with the texture.

In a food mill-free household, you could just mash them with a masher, which would give the texture of smashed potatoes. You could also use a mixer, which wouldn’t give you a super smooth purée, but it’s an alternative to the food mill.

Ina is using the coarser blade in her beauteous food mill. She makes this all advance and then heats it up with a little apple cider. She tastes for seasoning and loves it.

Ina fields more questions about stuffing and gravy.

Instead of using the turkey drippings, she uses chicken drippings that she’s saved in the freezer. I don’t know about this. How do you feel?

Yes, gravy is a pain and I always feel triumphant if I can have it made before the bulk of the guests arrive. But isn’t that the test of the cook’s mettle?

Cooking the gravy the day before with counterfeit drippings seems wrong to me. Is EVERYTHING always about how to do stuff the easiest way possible? I’m really not down with this idea.

Undoubtedly it’s easier, but is it better? Now you may say that the Contessa’s CHICKEN gravy is better than 99% of the normal person’s rushed TURKEY gravy, but I still think we all need something to shoot for. Making turkey gravy just may be the bellwether of an accomplished cook.

I’m probably only saying this because my gravy is AWESOME. If the test were something else (I cannot make jello or hamburgers and my angel food cakes are far from celestial) then I’d be out of luck. (I’ll be revealing my turkey and gravy recipe later in the week…You could peek at last year’s Thanksgiving posts to get a preview.)

I have a friend whose husband (the best part is that her husband is in this sentence at all) wants to do his gravy in advance, but he wants it to be authentic. He roasts turkey legs and makes the gravy from THAT a week or two ahead of time and then freezes it. That’s an idea I could live with.

Ina goes over her gravy technique. She does have a sensational recipe (I LOVE the additional of a tablespoon of brandy), but I would make it on the day.

For the stuffing, Ina melts butter in a large frying pan. She adds 2 chopped granny smith apples (peels still on), 2 stalks of celery and 2 onions, both chopped. She cooks them until tender.

Ina tells us that she stopped cooking her stuffing inside the turkey, because the stuffing would take forever to cook and her turkey would be dry. Now she has a moist turkey and a big pan of stuffing that she doesn’t have to worry about. (I will probably be the last person on earth to cook my stuffing inside the turkey…I’m nothing if not stubborn.)

She chops 2 tablespoons fresh parsley and adds that with 1 tablespoon salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper. She tosses everything together and continues cooking for another 10 minutes.

Ina toasts 1 inch cubes of a French bread boule in the oven for 7 minutes at 300°F. This will crisp and dry out the bread, so it will absorb all the good flavors of the stuffing. Ina adds the cooked mixture into the bread.

She’s thrown me off several times when she’s referred to the bread as “bread crumbs” and they are clearly these big cubes of bread.

To add to the stuffing, she cooks half sweet and half spicy Italian sausage (3/4 pound total) in the same frying pan that her vegetables were cooking in. She cooks them until done, about 10 minutes. She says “bread crumbs” again. Ina!

She adds one cup of dried cranberries and one cup of “good” chicken stock to the stuffing and lastly the sausage. She tosses it all together. It does look really, really, REALLY good - like a savory bread pudding without the egg part. She puts it in the fridge to await tomorrow’s cooking.

Her plan for dessert “involves the guests”. Hmmm…what could that be? Toasted marshmallows over the firepit? Taking turns churning ice cream? S’mores in the microwave?

Maybe she’s asking them to BRING IT? Nah, I sure hope not. I don’t want some grotty pie that someone bought from the Acme, when I could have a Barefoot Contessa dessert.

OMG, that’s it!!! She’s asked everyone to bring one pie. She thinks it’s more fun that way. Maybe for you! But certainly not for the guests expecting great things…

She hears more questions. People worry too much. She talks about how to get the whole meal out at one time. She pours white wine in the bottom of the turkey pan and cooks it 325°F for 2 hours until an instant read thermometer registers 165°F deg. She covers it with foil and allows it to rest for 15 minutes.

The stuffing goes into the oven at 350°F for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, Ina says, heat up the celery root purée over low heat and reheat the gravy with a tablespoon of cream.

The last 15 minutes you blanch the green beans, carve the turkey and serve.

We see the guests arrive. Adorable Jeffrey and Ina greet them. The couple does look amazingly relaxed. Perhaps her plan IS the way to go. I just know it will never happen in my house, where I would never cook the most important meal of the year IN ADVANCE.

Anyway, is it really Thanksgiving if the cook isn’t flushed with worry and, at least, a bit distraught? I find a few cocktails, opportunely timed, always help.


Anonymous said...

Hi Sue:

I've emailed you before about not liking Ina's "back to basics". I watched Saturday's show in disbelief. Since when does Ina look for so many shortcuts? I absolutely hated this show. Why is the Food Network trying to give us another show about cooking quickly? Not all of us want a 30 minute meal. The best part used to be watching her make elegant food for her friends and wishing that you could be one of her friends! I miss that about her show. I especially don't like these video questions.
I continue to watch because I like her but at some point I'm going to stop because its just not the old Ina.


DebCarol said...

I'm feeling a bit lukewarm about Ina's Thanksgiving Back to Basics, and agreeing with Anon's comments about "cooking quickly" etc. It seems like this season has been dumbed down a bit. Someone has taken out Ina and replaced her with a Stepford Ina. And . . . hate to keep whining but - I still REALLY miss the original theme music.

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

I know how you feel about that turkey breast thing. About three years ago, my mother decided to stop doing whole turkeys and just to breasts. I was devastated. Where was the wing? The bountiful drippings for gravy? The...um..er..pope's nose. She said she just couldn't handle a big heavy turkey anymore. The following year I had T-day at Dad's. Then I started doing it myself!

Marty said...

I am beginning to think I'm falling out of love with Ina. Sigh. I have been REALLY disappointed with her new format and the mundane recipes she's "demonstrating". And I felt the same way you did, Sue, when I saw this segment. Her gravy reminded me of a Rachael Ray "just thicken store bought chicken broth! Yum-o!" recipe. Ina fans don't watch her show for recipes for beginners. I have no problem with a roast turkey breast (it's only 6 people, after all) and I always make my dressing in separate casseroles (everyone's preference at my house). If she was hell-bent on showing us a simple, stress free menu, Ina should have pointed out that this menu was really quite simple to achieve without advocating all her mediocre shortcuts! Surely there's a place on FN for a program that targets more accomplished cooks, amid all shows for novices. I hope Ina reconsiders her format; I've already largely abandoned Food Network for Lidia Bastianich and Marianne Esposito on PBS for my food porn!

Cynthia said...

Ah, a measure of true love when your love (in this case, Ina) makes you pause, and yet you remain faithful.

Adam said...

I really thought your planning ahead for T-giving post had some really great ideas. I have no idea how she can make everything the night before. Must be nice to have that time.

And the bringing a pie can be a good idea, just no store bought pies please. Store pumpkin is gross!

SayGrace said...

Sadly, I am going to have to agree with everyone who indicates a certain wistfulness for the Ina of yore who "whipped up" pavlova for a birthday cruise or packed pasta salads into individual takeout cartons for afternoon parties on the beach... I loved watching her take on intensive culinary projects and just calmly taking her viewers start to finish through them... our own Thanksgiving has grown to obscene proportions with our own kids, their friends, their friends' friends, a few beloveds, and this year a handful of not-sure-where-they-came-froms... we'll be 41 around the tables, but dammit, it's SUPPOSED to be a feast with way too much food (everyone pitches in, but we manage to make buckets of madeira spiked real turkey gravy with roasted vegetables smooshed right in... yum!) and great wine and enough leftovers for all kinds of good-to-go boxes. I'm not interested in ways to shortcut what was essentially a very low key potluck after all... come on, Ina. We want you back!

Sue said...

Wow! My commenters mostly seem quite unhappy with Ina. I guess we should have taken the new subtitle "Back to Basics" more seriously.

Hi S,
Yes, I remember. You are so right. I always wanted to be at her table to share in the splendid food (and company).

The video questions are pointless and unnecessary.

Hi DC,
Stepford Ina. That's funny. Obviously, someone decided that this group of shows was going to feature dumbed-down recipes. And it certainly seems as it she's not pleasing her stalwart fans.

The old music WAS Ina, I agree.

Hey Shortie,
Isn't the whole turkey kind of the thing? Let's face it, it's not always the best thing on the table, but it is the starting point.

The best thing about hosting Thanksgiving is that you can serve absolutely anything you want. The longer you have it, though, you'll find that you never subtract dishes. You just keep adding to them, because you don't want to take away someone's favorite.

Hi Marty,
Maybe this is an off-season for the Contessa. Maybe someone from on high said, keep it simple. Maybe she spent all summer in Paris and didn't get back in time to plan complicated recipes.

I went back and looked at the gravy recipe after what you said. You're right!!! But remember SHE made it with real drippings. It would be a fabulous recipe when made with the turkey drippings. And the addition of brandy is genius. But the recipe as written IS just thickened chicken stock.

Lidia is a class act all the way. Even her simplest recipes don't feel full of shortcuts.

Beautifully said! I have to remember that the next time I'm disappointed by a loved one.

Adam, Love ya!!!!Mwwwwaaahhhh!

I guess she felt that if she did everything the day before, she could really enjoy her company...

That is a really good point about the pies. Or have people bring anything home-baked. Actually, I still hate that idea. Let's be honest, noone's would be as good as Ina's, so what's the point?

You bring up lots of good examples of Ina's previous cooking adventures.

I am awestruck by the thought of you having 41 people. That is completely amazing! That is so lovely that yours is the go-to house for T-Day. How the heck do you have time to be watching Ina, when you're about to have more than 3 dozen people over for Thanksgiving?!! I'd love to hear how it went.

Anonymous said...

Hi Sue!
I, too, listened to Ina refer to "bread crumbs" when I was looking at her large "cubes" of bread. I had it tivoed so I even listened to it twice. Of course then she said it several times, lol. Last week I was yelling at her because she was calling rutabaga "turnips". I am a rutabaga lover. Oh well, I still love her and wouldn't miss her show.

Tracy said...

If making gravy is the bellweather of an accomplished cook, then I need to end my food blog today! I suck at gravy!

And I've had Thanksgivings with a turkey breast -- I hate it because I prefer the dark meat! But I like the dressing cooked in a separate casserole -- I've read too many stories about bacteria in stuffing.

I was at BJs tonight and they had all of her cookbooks for $22 each -- I had to restrain myself from getting them!

I still love Ina.

Sue said...

I don’t get the bread crumb thing at all.

You know, rutagbagas can also be called a Swedish turnips, maybe that’s what she was thinking.

I still love her too.

Now Tracy,
I said it MAY be the bellwether of a good cook. I just hope I never have a jello showdown…I knew I was the only person left in the world that still stuffed a turkey.

Wow!!! $22, THAT is a good deal.

Emily said...

Ah, yes, cocktails indeed. That's a great idea.
Did you post a recipe last year?

My brain is fried today.

If I went to Ina's for Thanksgiving, I would be expecting a buffet of desserts that she made herself. I don't know if I like the pie idea. What if everyone brought the same pie? I like the idea of a pie bake-off on Thanksgiving though.

I think turkey gravy should be made with turkey drippings.

Making gravy is the bellweather of an accomplished cook....
Love that.

Nikki said...

But you see....that's Ina's thing. She always makes stuff prior to & then whips it out like "A-ha!" & is so relaxed & rested so she can actually enjoy her guests. That's what she's getting it by prepping early. She ALWAYS does this. This is nothing new. Why is everyone upset about her not being "the old Ina"? I don't get it. 'Splain me, please, Lucy.

I agree with making things in advance. After cooking for Thanksgiving every year for 56 years, a little prep so you can actually sit down in the easy chair & enjoy a quarter or two of football is awesome.

I'm doing a turkey breast this year. I'm deboning a whole turkey, too, but I'm more interested in the turkey breast bc I've never done one. #2: it's not called stuffing if it's not inside the bird (or inside of something other than the baking dish). It's called dressing at that point. I feel the same way about this terminology as you do about her saying "breadcrumbs" when clearly they were not.

Oh & about the gravy? I think it's ok to use drippings from somewhere else. I mean, we've already been cheated out of our drumsticks & thighs. Pilfered Chicken drippings won't make much of a difference.

Anonymous said...


I would like to respond to Nikki's comment. The reason we are all complaining about missing the old Ina is that the show's format has changed and we don't like it! The music is different, Ina now takes viewer questions which are totally BS and she has dumbed down her show. She used to be about elegance and style and now her focus seems to be on making something fast so she can get out of the kitchen. If you are an Ina fan from the beginning then you should have noticed the difference.

Sue said...

Hi Em,
I may have suggested pomegranate juice with champagne or Prosecco. Don’t make me look.

I think any guest of Ina’s would be expecting, at the very least, something homemade. Good point, Em, what if everyone brought a nasty mincemeat pie.

I’m glad you agree about the gravy.

Hi Nikki,
Ina always makes stuff look easy, but practically cooking the entire meal ahead of time for THANKSGIVING is a letdown, not to mention that she didn’t even bother with dessert. We want to see her be superhuman and come out with a great meal.

Some things are great to do in advance. But the turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, at the very least, I like to serve freshly made.

Your dressing/stuffing distinction is so Southern. We Northerners customarily only use the word dressing to refer to what goes on a salad. I call mine stuffing and I do put mine in the bird.

We gotta agree to disagree about the gravy.

We do love our Ina, don't we? And we don't want to have to get used to any changes. But I don't think we would have minded GOOD changes. But these new shows do seem a bit elementary. Maybe she's working up to some really great shows. I'm going to hope so anyway.