Monday, December 8, 2008

Ina Parties Hearty

The Barefoot Contessa with Ina Garten
Cocktail Hour
Blue Cheese and Walnut Crackers
Ham and Cheese in Puff Pastry
Roasted Shrimp Cocktail

For any fans, who were concerned with a few of Ina’s new shows, this week she’s back in glorious form with a show that every Ina-phile will appreciate. She’s showing her glamorous guy pal how to have an elegant and easy cocktail party.

Ina schools us on how to give a cocktail party and says it doesn’t really matter how many people are coming. She likes to serve 6 hors d’oeuvres - 3 homemade and 3 store-bought.

She starts with blue cheese crackers. She puts 12 ounces of blue stilton in the mixer with one stick of butter. She helpfully reminds us that the 12 ounces becomes more like 8 ounces after the rind is cut off, so I guess that’s a warning not to stint on the cheese.

She beats the blue cheese together with 1½ cups of flour, added slowly into the mixer. She adds 2 teaspoons of salt! Wow, this IS blue cheese after all, but I guess since it’s a cracker, the salt is somewhat understandable. Ina adds in 1 teaspoon of pepper and 1 tablespoon water.

She chops ½ cup of walnuts, which she’ll use to make a crust for the cracker dough. She flours the board and rolls out the dough to a 12 inch long log, which looks to be about 2 inches thick. She says it’s odd looking. It is! It’s blue from the cheese.

She paints the log with an egg wash. (Remember an egg wash isn’t just egg. It’s one egg beaten with a tablespoon of water, milk or cream. Let’s ignore the fact that Ina is using her usual extra large egg.)

This is interesting. She spreads out the chopped nuts into a rectangle and rolls the log over the nuts to coat the outside. She slightly presses down as she rolls. She wraps it in parchment paper. She says plastic wrap is okay too. She chills it for 30 minutes.

Ina takes out the cracker dough. She slices it by sawing it back and forth. Those are not terribly thin. (The recipe says they’re 3/8 inch thick.) She gets 30 crackers out of one recipe. She puts them on a parchment-ed baking sheet and bakes them at 350°F for 22 minutes until browned and golden.

Ina says to allow 3 or 4 hors d’oeuvres per person. She takes them out. They look…interesting. She tries one. She loves it.

The next hors d’oeuvre is ham and cheese in puff pastry.

“If that doesn’t sound good, I’m in trouble”, quips Ina. Oh MG, I do love her.

She takes out the chilled, thawed puff pastry and rolls it out on a lightly floured board to 10 by 12 inches. She measures to make sure it’s perfect. Ina puts in on a sheet pan lined with parchment.

She spreads the puff pastry with Dijon mustard, leaving a one inch border. Ina begins to layer on thinly sliced black forest ham. She has ¼ pound and may not use it all. She also leaves a one inch border around the ham.

“We’re not looking for perfection here. We’re looking for delicious.” We’ve found both in you, Ina.

She has a block of Gruyère on the board and she removes the rind. She slices it in the food processor with the slicing blade.

There is one thing Ina fails to mention. You can adjust the thickness of the slices you get from a food processor by adjusting the pressure when feeding the item into the feed tube. For example, if you want to keep cheese fairly thick, then you press down hard, which makes it goes through the food processor slicing blade quickly. THAT will make a thicker slice. If you want to keep them thinner, then if you exert little or, even, no pressure on the cheese. Try it with carrots. Press down hard and make them go quickly. Those will be thicker slices than if you just put the carrot in and let it go by itself, with no pressing down.

Ina layers the cheese on top of the ham, avoiding the one inch border. She “clears the decks” and rolls out the other sheet of puff pastry to the same dimensions.

Ina tells us that she likes to organize a cocktail party menu the same way as a dinner menu. She likes to have some things hot; some things cold; some vegetable things and some cheese things. We’re learning a lot.

She beats one egg with a bit of water. Oh, she must have heard me talking about egg washes before. She says it doesn’t matter what you use – milk, cream or water.

She brushes the egg wash around the edges of the filled puff pastry sheet and lays the second piece on top. If it doesn’t fit exactly, she says not to stretch it, because it will shrink back to the original size. She says to cut it to fit perfectly. She presses a fork along the edges to close them up. You can make it advance, Ina says, and refrigerate it.

She brushes egg wash on top and cuts 3 slits in the top crust to let the steam get out. She bakes it at 425°F for 30 minutes. “Puffed and golden and delicious….How bad is that?” 

It comes out. It is beautiful. She cuts it into little squares and says that people can help themselves right on the board.

Ina buys a nice selection of olives and salted Marcona almonds. Her third bought hors d’oeuvres is sliced salami on top of cucumber slices. (Or was it the other way around?) She seasons that with plenty of freshly ground black pepper.

Ina’s so chatty today. When she used to cater parties, it was the shrimp cocktail that everyone would go after. She was looking for a way to add more flavor and she decided that roasting the shrimp would be good. SHE peels and deveins the shrimp (unlike Giada who bought it shelled, in the half hour before her), leaving the tail on.

Ina says different stores have different ways of naming shrimp, so she always orders shrimp by the count. This time she’s using 12 to 15 shrimp per pound, and she has 2 pounds. (I sure hope Jack is only having 10 people, because they’re going to scarf down those shrimp, especially once they’re liquored up.)

She patiently attends to all the shrimp. She spreads them out (very important) on a sheet pan and pours over a couple TABLEspoons of olive oil and salt and pepper. She cooks them for 8 to 10 minutes at 400°F. (Have you ever noticed that Ina has the most perfect nails? Not a bit of cuticle in sight.)

For the sauce, Ina goes classic, “with the volume turned up”. She mixes ½ cup chili sauce; ½ cup ketchup; 3 tablespoons horseradish “for spice and heat”; ”a splash of Worcestershire for depth of flavor”; a splash of Tabasco to give it “more heat…a different kind of heat”; and a little lemon to add a fresh citrus-y flavor. “How easy is that?” She places it in a plain white bowl atop a big plain white plate. The shrimp go around the bowl on the plate. She says people are going to go crazy.

She is going to show Jack how to set up a bar table next.

Jack comes over and looks at her plan nervously. He’s going to video Ina setting up the bar. (He could just watch this episode…) She rented a 6 foot long table and covers it with a white tablecloth. She’s getting all nervous that he’s filming her. INA! You’re on television, you’ll do just fine.

A la Martha Stewart, she shows Jack how to do a neat box corner for the tablecloth. Wait, I have to look at that again. You take the back top corner of the cloth, lift it up and bring it to the front edge. You sort of flatten and neaten the side and then you pull it right back. Got that? Me neither.

It’s kind of ingenious, but you have to see it to do it. She does the other side and ends up with a completely flat cloth with no dangerous overhang in the front for people to trip over. She adds an exciting striped cloth on the diagonal, with the point hanging down the middle of the front.

She tells Jack that she always orders one kind of glass for cocktails. It’s a classic white wine glass that can hold any kind of beverage. It’s a “footed glass” and Ina likes “the hand-blown kind”. She does one back row of glasses on the table, which are touching each other. Then she makes two triangles, using that back row.

She allows 3 glasses per person. It does look beautiful. She adds water, ice, scotch, vodka, bourbon, rum, soft drinks and flowers. No gin? What exactly is Ina going to do with a fully set up bar?

Next scene is Ina at the party. She’s VERY jolly, as she checks the straightness of the glasses. Well done. She’s happy to just enjoy the party.

Jack is passing everything himself. (It’s so hard to get good help these days.) He's so nervous about Ina’s opinion. He needs to relax. He should have gotten one or two of his many guy pals to act as bartender and waiter. His guests seem strangely stilted and camera-avoiders, unlike Ina’s usual crowd. I don’t mind, I just love seeing Ina in excellent form and able to be the guest for once.

(The Food Network website for this week’s show was a doozy. The introductory page had a paragraph about the show with NO links or recipes listed. When I searched for the individual recipes, they came up, but if you didn’t remember what the exact recipe was, you’d never find it.)


Emily said...

What wonderful appetizers. I think the blue cheese cracker sounds good. It probably would be salty, don't you think?

Nikki said...

I like the blue cheese & walnut crackers idea. I'll have to do seseme or nigella seeds. I'm allergic to walnuts. I'm into making crackers now. It's like my new thing to impress people LOL

DebCarol said...

Tuned into this one late. Ina was doing her magic thing with the tablecloth when I arrived. But what fun from that point on. She WAS jolly and chatty and sure stirred things up when she arrived at Jack's party. And I'll bet she stirred things up even more once she finished her "vodka on ice".

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

A cocktail party without a single piece of smoked salmon! Maybe I'll have to change the drinking game I'm devising.

Then again, she still uses all of that blue cheese...

Tracy said...

Great tip about the food processor! I'm going to have to try that.

Nat said...

Loved the table cloth idea but when I tried it, I couldn't get it figured out. I will have to watch that one again. Great show!

Sue said...

Yes, Em,
I think they would be deliciously salty.

Hey Nik,
I agree that folks would be thrilled to get homemade crackers. Other seeds would be good too.

Hi DC,
Ina WAS in fine form.

On another topic, thanks so much for visiting my nephew's blog:
It's a great window into his challenging life. HE'S the one that got me blogging.

I'm so out of it! What drinking game involves smoked salmon? The latest one I heard about involved having a shot everytime Sarah Palin (or Tina Fey) used the word Maverick.

It's really true. It will change your life, well, at least, your slicing life.

Hi Nat,
It was complicated. If you figure it out, let me know.

Mimi83 said...

Hi all!! I was looking for the same thing ... That tablecloth trick that ina did so amazingly ...
Well after ages of searching, i think i've found the trick at this link-

I'm so silly.... OfCOURSE it would be called "boxing" a tablecloth. Hope this helps! Cheers!!!!

Grandma Roxie said...

I loved this show and will be making some of the appetizers. But now I need the tablecloth folding directions and cannot locate them any clue where I find them?

Sue said...

Grandma Roxie,
See if this helps: