Sunday, February 1, 2009

Barefoot Classics Brings Out Strong Opinions (Mine); Plus A Great Tip From Rachael Ray

(I'm Not Kidding)

Barefoot Contessa with Ina Garten

Barefoot Classics
Easy Sticky Buns
Mustard Chicken Salad
Roasted Vegetable Soup

Ina shows us the very spot where her shop, Barefoot Contessa, used to be. She says people ask her about its recipes all the time. She’s revisiting some of the classic ones today.

It was like the heartbeat of East Hampton,” says our Contessa, as she reminisces about people lining up for the scones, muffins and sticky buns (which took forever to make). She was determined to come up with a quicker method for those delicious breakfast treats.

Back in the new barn’s kitchen, Ina beats together 12 tablespoons or 1½ sticks of butter (which must be at room temperature she reminds us), with a 1/3 cup of brown sugar. She puts a tablespoon of that mixture in the bottoms of a muffin pan. She sprinkles over pecans. That will become the top of the sticky buns.

Ina has defrosted puff pastry overnight in the fridge.
She lays it out on a board with a bit of flour and brushes on some melted butter. The key is “keeping it really cold”. 1/3 cup brown sugar gets sprinkled on, keeping a 1½ inch border all the way around. Then she sprinkles over cinnamon.

(Isn’t there some way to mix the cinnamon with the brown sugar so you don’t get globs of it in one spot? It’s not the easiest thing do, but I still might try it.)

She leaves a border around the cinnamon too. ½ cup of raisins go over next. Ina rolls it up tightly without pressing down, telling us the flour on the board is important so that the pastry doesn't stick to it. The border around the edge is so the butter will glue the whole thing together.

Ina cuts off the ends to make it nice. She cuts it in half and then in thirds. They go into the muffin cups, pressing down lightly. That makes six buns. She proceeds to make 6 more. Question: can you do these up to this point the night before, I wonder? I don't see why not. She bakes them at 400°F for 30 minutes until the pastry is firm and the other stuff is caramelized.

She takes them out. They look YUMMY. Oh, hi Jeffrey! “They look great. This looks just terrific. Amazing.” Jeffrey is as yummy as the buns. He asks her what else she’s making and says he’ll be around to taste it.

Note: There is a similar Giada recipe, Hazelnut Cinnamon Rolls, which is made in an 8 inch square dish, instead of muffin pans. But Giada’s is made with frozen white bread dough, which I don’t even know what that is. I suppose you could substitute puff pastry for it.

Ina says they made “mountains of chicken salad” at the Barefoot Contessa store. She halves one cup of cherry tomatoes.

(I really hate to tell you this, but I saw something the other day on RR that wasn’t the worst idea in the world. Rachael admitted that it wasn’t her idea. She puts cherry tomatoes in between 2 take-out lids – the round plastic ones with rims.

She put the knife in the middle and cut them the way you would slice a cake layer in half or a loaf of bread. This method ensures that they don’t go rolling all over the place.)

BTW, that is NOT my hand.

You're left with very nicely halved cherry or grape tomatoes. Wow, I learned something from Rachael Ray.

Ina cuts the stems off the broccoli and says you can save them for soup. She pulls the florets apart. They go into a big pot of heavily salted water to cook really quickly, just 30 seconds to a minute to set the green color. “Remember, it’s a salad, not a cooked vegetable.”

She takes them out of the water with a Chinese strainer and they go into ice water and then into the bowl with the tomatoes.

For the dressing, Ina thins 1½ cups of mayonnaise with 2 tablespoons of white wine. That’s interesting. She whisks in ¼ cup Dijon, 3 tablespoons of whole grain mustard, 1 tablespoon of kosher salt and ½ tablespoon of pepper.

Ina likes to roast chicken breasts on the bone in the oven for the chicken that will go in the salad. She rubs 4 chicken breasts liberally with olive oil, salt and pepper and cooks them on a sheet pan at 350°F for 35 to 40 minutes. She likes to keep the chicken on the bone because that keeps the bottom moist; she keeps the skin on to keep the top moist.

Ina adds the chicken to the dressing while it’s warm, so it will absorb more dressing. She removes the skin and cuts the chicken off the bone into large chunks. That goes into the bowl. She mixes it with clean hands and adds enough mustard dressing to moisten, but not drown it. “You can always add more…Oh, this looks very familiar.” She tastes and thinks it’s a bit flat, so she adds a bit of tarragon. (Not to mine, please.) Now she loves it. She serves it on a plate with a nice piece of bread.

Ina’s in the car, telling us about the roasted vegetables that she used to make for the Barefoot Contessa store. She stops by a farm stand. She says there’s not a vegetable that can’t be made better by roasting it in the oven with olive oil, salt and pepper until it caramelizes on the outside. Ina likes to do different combinations - Mediterranean: zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes and garlic. She likes broccoli and cauliflower together. Today, she’s is going to do roasted root vegetables – carrots, sweet potatoes, butternut squash and parsnips. She likes that the leftovers can become soup.

Ina peels parsnips and cuts them into 1-ish inch cubes. She drizzles olive oil over and sprinkles them with lots of salt and pepper and tosses that together. She cuts sweet potatoes and then attacks the butternut. She’s using only half of it. Everything gets more olive oil and salt and pepper. They go into a 425°F oven for 30 to 35 minutes.

She keeps all the vegetables separate as she cooks them. They look really good, but, I have to say, that I ALWAYS add onions to the mix. I would miss their caramelized sweetness.
She puts the roasted vegetables on one big platter, but in separate piles.

Here’s something interesting. She adds a different little something to each vegetable to bring out its individual “essence”. She adds flaked sea salt to the parsnips; chopped parsley to the carrots; a little maple syrup to the sweet potatoes…YUM; sea salt and pepper to the butternut squash. A big bunch of parsley goes on the edge of the platter. She is already planning to make Barefoot Contessa Roasted Vegetable soup with what’s left over.

Ina tells us that the difference between making money and not making money in the specialty food business is using leftovers. But she always challenged herself to make the leftovers taste better than the original dish or ingredients. That’s where the soup comes in.

Plus she’s making brioche croutons, which she always made from leftover brioche. She cubes the bread, puts the cubes on a baking sheet and adds olive oil, salt and pepper, remarking how amazing it is the number of things you can cook that way. They cook at 350°F for 10 to 15 minutes.

Ina adds 1 quart of chicken stock and 1 quart roasted vegetables to a saucepan and heats that up. She checks the croutons, has a taste and puts them back in.

Back to the saucepan, she takes her immersion blender and blends everything together. Oh, someone is going to be really happy. She only blends it until it’s coarse, because she likes it to have some texture.

I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I only use my immersion blender as a last resort
– when the blender is too dirty to rinse out quickly; or when the food processor won’t do (maybe there’s potato in the mixture); or the food mill will leave too much behind.

Call me old-fashioned, but nothing blends like a blender and with some quick pulsing you can leave some texture in. Also you can blend just PART of the soup and that makes it nice and thick, but still rough-hewn.

I find the result with my immersion blender is a second rate, lazy one. It’s neither chunky, nor smooth…just kind of half-assed. There HAS to be something in the world that I don’t have a strong opinion about…I just haven’t found it yet. But I am willing to admit I haven’t used it thousands of times, so maybe I just need practice…but I doubt it.

Ina takes out the croutons and Jeffrey appears as she’s ladling out some soup and topping it with the croutons. She tops it with a little drizzle of olive oil “to enrich it”. He’s my biggest fan, she says of Jeffrey… I’m hers (immersion blender notwithstanding).


Anonymous said...

I haven't used my immersion blender that much and so far each time I have I am not left impressed.
I cant believe that trick came from Rachel Ray!

;) amy

ac claire said...

The sticky buns sound awesome. Only thing I can think that would make them better is to toast the pecans for a few minutes before they go into the muffin tin. (I do it on a piece of foil in a 350 degree oven, for maybe 5-6 minutes.)

Also, do you think the clumpiness you mentioned could be avoided by just mixing the cinnamon and sugar together before sprinking on the pastry?

Tom said...

Hi Sue,

I have to admit I'm disappointed in all the packaged puff pastry Ina's using. Maybe in the Hamptons you can find all-butter frozen puff pastry in the supermarket, but here in DC it's tough (even Whole Foods doesn't always carry it, and sometimes it looks pretty old). The regular old stuff like Pepperidge Farms doesn't use butter and it doesn't taste great. It's OK for some savory things, but not for these cinnamon rolls (btw, I mix the sugar and cinnamon in the food processor as you suggested, because the cinnamon does clump otherwise). It's surprising since Ina is always emphasizing "good" ingredients that she would use substandard puff pastry, or at least not tell viewers what to look out for.


Anne said...

oh, that tomato tip is a good one. you get the impression that Rachel came up with it after a few glasses of wine in the kitchen while she was fiddling around with knives.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Tom its very hard to find "good" puff pastry. I live in the suburbs of NYC and my grocery store doesn't carry it. I love Ina but I'm not on board with this season and all her shortcuts.

Sue said...

Hi Calm Amy,
I’m glad it’s not just me.

I was pretty shocked to learn a cooking tip from RR.

Hi AC Claire,
Toasting the nuts before would be an excellent idea, which I should have mentioned. I always pre-toast nuts before they go into any recipe.

Brown sugar is kind of a pain to mix dry stuff into, but, yes, I think mixing it with the cinnamon would definitely be the way to go.

I’m trying to figure out why I didn’t call Ina out on that. I admit that I don’t put packaged puff pastry in the same category as cake mixes or store-bought cookie dough. But you are right. Good fresh puff pastry oozing with pure butter flavor and, let’s face it, grease is nothing like its drier frozen counterpart.

BUT I’m pretty sure that I and 99% of the population (even the cooking population) will never make puff pastry in our own kitchens. I haven’t made it probably since 5 years after graduating from cooking school and I imagine I may never again. It’s just one of those incredibly labor-intensive things that even after spending many hours and much effort, you’re not guaranteed a superior result. It’s actually one thing that’s worth going to cooking school to learn, because it is so tricky. Having said that, I guess you’re right that Ina should have, at least, mentioned a more superior brand and if she wants us to use “good” vanilla extract and wine, good puff pastry should be on the list too.

Hi Anne,
You are so right. I imagine she fiddles around with knives a lot. I did appreciate the fact, though, that she didn’t take credit for that tomato slicing method.

Hi Anon,
Puff pastry is so time and labor consuming to make, I suppose I’ve given Ina a pass when she uses it. For whatever reason, this season is super simple, but there have been some sensational recipes nonetheless. Her short ribs looked awesome last week as did her Fleur de Sel Caramels. Oh, and I forgot to mention (which is pretty inexcusable since I blogged about it) that she did those very same sticky buns on GMA in December. http://foodnetworkmusings.

Lynn said...

I know this is an older post but I had to comment on the immersion blender.

I cannot live without it! In fact we leave tomorrow for one month on the beach and it's already packed.

I make zero fat pureed vegetable soups with mine and I love it!!!

Sue said...

I love comments anytime at all...

I think your use of the immersion blender at the beach goes under my category of last resort. (It IS a beach, right?) Okay, bad puns aside, you take it with you so you have SOMETHING to puree with and you don't have to lug a blender or food processor along. So, really, in that regard, it's better than having nothing. Right? But I still wouldn't say it's the best tool for the job.

I have used mine more since I wrote this. I haven't changed my mind that other appliances do a better job, but it does take 20 seconds to rinse off and uses no dishwasher space and sometimes that's important.

Sue said...

PS Lynn,
Have a fantastic time at the beach, you lucky thing!