Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Happy Earth Day As Ina Picnics...Plus Salt In Batter And Obsessive Cookie Shaping

The Barefoot Contessa with Ina Garten

Pack And Go Party
Pita Stuffed with Tabbouleh and Shards of Feta
Roasted Shrimp Salad
Ultimate Ginger Cookie

What could be more fun than going on a picnic with Ina? AND in her own back yard. (Do you think she and Jeffrey might set up the tent later?)

I can’t wait to see what she’s making. And I really hope TR is one of the guests. Just imagine him all stretched out on the picnic blanket…

I like how she often counts things off at the beginning of an episode. This time it’s what picnic food should be:
Always Delicious

I LIKE the music. It’s jazzy.

Ina asks if anyone REALLY likes fancy parties. SHE prefers casual get-togethers. She starts with her Ultimate Ginger Cookies. (I guess Tyler hasn’t gotten around to these yet.)

She measure 2¼ cups flour into a sieve over a bowl. She stirs it lightly first. Ina tells us as not to tamp down the flour as we measure.
Good point.

If you pack the flour into the cup, you’re increasing the amount of flour - possibly even by spoonfuls. So handle the flour gently as you measure. As I think about it, the only ingredient you ever want to pack into a measuring cup is brown sugar. Oh, chocolate chips too, so you don’t have to feel bad about sampling them on their way to the mixing bowl.

To the flour, Ina adds 1 teaspoon baking soda, 2 teaspoons “really good” cinnamon. 1½ teaspoons cloves, ½ teaspoon ground ginger, (this is going to be some spicy meatballs, I mean cookies) and ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg, WHICH SHE DOESN’T GRATE FRESH…which I will never understand.

Ina says the balance of spices is important and you don’t want one spice to overwhelm the others. She adds ¼ teaspoon salt, which she says brings out the flavor in sweet things the same way that it does in savory. Ina sifts all the dry ingredients together.

I KNOW that noone else on the planet agrees with me and that I’m the only one in the universe who doesn’t add salt to sweet things, but I don’t care. I can TASTE it and I don’t like it. Actually, now that I think about it, it is funny because I love sweet things with savory stuff. I could eat a prune in any stew or orange juice in any reduction. But I cannot abide salt in sweet baked goods. Yet when I taste others’, I’m not as bothered as when I add it to my own…Go Figure!

In another bowl, Ina adds 1 cup of brown sugar to ¼ cup of flavorless oil. I would use safflower oil here, which I always keep in the fridge to prevent it going off. In fact, the only oil I DON’T keep in the fridge is my tasteless light-colored supermarket-quality olive oil that I use when I want to extend my beautiful Spanish olive oil.

Ina adds 1/3 cup of unsulfured molasses and beats that together. She breaks an egg onto the counter (uck! egg all over the counter) and then into a separate little bowl. She pours that into the running mixer. Then, on low speed, she adds the flour and spices. Ooh, she’s adding a surprise in the middle – crystallized ginger. She chops it into a small dice. She’s using 1¼ cups of crystallized ginger! She beats it into the batter.

Ina scoops out the dough with an ice cream scoop and rolls it into a ball and then into sugar. She places the balls on the cookie sheet and presses them flat. They will bake at 350°F for 12 minutes. I always use an ice cream scoop too. It ensures that each cookie is the same size.

I have a lovely friend, who takes a much more casual approach than I do to cooking – and life. HER kids don’t run screaming from the room when asked if they want to help with the baking. She keeps cookie dough in the freezer and can’t be bothered to defrost it. I was present one time when her kids hacked off pieces of the frozen dough and threw them on a baking sheet. (And not a proper baking sheet either – it was the bottom of a broiler pan that comes with some ovens.)

There were blobs of cookie dough; there were triangles and misshapen lumps! They were all different sizes and shapes. I had to put my fist in my mouth to keep from exclaiming over the haphazard nature of the baking that was going on! And when they came out, some were crisp, some were chewy, some were a bit burned and…the kids just loved them!

I understand the need for freezing cookie dough, but I approach the whole thing a little differently. I would scoop the dough into identical balls, open-freeze them and then pack them into a plastic bag to be used as needed. Um, I better stop now, because I know I’m sounding more and more like Martha Stewart every minute. (The bad parts of Martha Stewart, not the good ones.)

Back to Ina, she calls her friend Barbara (on her blackberry) and asks if she can pick up some peaches from the farm stand, which will go perfectly with her cookies. (Conveniently, there is a camera standing by Barbara when her phone rings.) Oh, she’s bringing individual bottles of champagne too.

Ina takes out the cookies. Gorgeous. AND every one is perfect. She has a little taste. Hmmm.

Ina grates orange zest on her microplaner for the shrimp. She adds that with 2 tablespoons of orange juice to a bowl. She adds a cup of “good” mayonnaise. It’s not necessary to make your own, Ina says. IF you are serving this outside, I would NEVER use a homemade mayonnaise. Few things are as perishable. You need something that has a few stabilizers and, yes, preservatives.

Salt (I would add less) and pepper go in with a tablespoon of white wine vinegar. She stirs that all together. Next, she adds prepares a ¼ cup of chopped red onion and ¼ cup of chopped dill with 2 tablespoons drained capers and sets that aside.
Barbara had found the peaches. They’re HUGE.

Ina thought to roast shrimp for shrimp salad after they began roasting chicken for the chicken salad at the Barefoot Contessa shop. Good thinking!

She peels and deveins the shrimp. (She has nice hands.) Ina puts 2½ pounds of 16/20 count shrimp on a baking sheet. (It’s just as well that she’s having a picnic in her backyard, because after buying all that shrimp, she won’t be able to afford a vacation.)

She “drizzles” over olive oil and sprinkles over salt and pepper. She mixes that together well and spreads the shrimp out in a single layer and roasts them at 400°F for 6 to 8 minutes until pink and firm and barely cooked through.

Ina puts the shrimp in a big bowl while still warm (not hot). She spoons over most of the sauce. She notes that she always adds the sauce to the shrimp not the other way around. That way she can moderate the amount of sauce she uses. And it’s good to have a bit of extra to add just before serving.

Using an enormous spoon, she mixes the shrimp with the sauce and then adds most of the vegetables. She “holds a little bit of the vegetables back” to sprinkle over the top before serving. She tastes for seasoning - “The best shrimp salad I ever had.”

For her tabouli, Ina chops an English cucumber, leaving on the skin. She calls them hothouse cucumbers. She chops one cup of scallions. She uses the white and green parts and adds that to the cukes. She halves 2 cups of cherry tomatoes. (Remember Rachael’s tip?)

Ina says she likes the idea of each person having his own picnic bag. It’s the same as when kids prefer individual cupcakes at a birthday party. I get that, but I think it’s just because Ina doesn’t like to share.

Ina loves that her friend is bringing individual little bottles of champagne, so each person has his or own. “Now that’s a party!” Barbara has no problem getting them. Those are HALF BOTTLES of Veuve? They’re big. That’s a lot of champers for each person. I really do hope they’re going to camp out after and not get behind the wheel.

To finish the tabouli, Ina puts a cup of bulgur wheat into a bowl and pours over 1½ cups of boiling water. She stirs in 1/4 cup of lemon juice, ¼ cup of olive oil and salt and just lets it sit for an hour. She adds it to the chopped vegetables with 1 cup of fresh chopped mint and parsley. She adds more salt and pepper and stirs everything together. Yum!

To package the tabouli, she cuts pitas in half. (White ones. I didn’t know anyone still eats the white ones.) She spoons the salad in with big pieces of feta cheese. Fantastic. Plus her nails look sensational.

The shrimp salad looks luscious and AMAZING. She has a glossy orange mini-shopping bag for each person. She packages the shrimp salad in Chinese takeout containers. The tabouli pita goes into parchment paper and the cookies – THREE each - into glassine bags.

This is such an UN-GREEN presentation that it’s striking. I have no doubt that everything would taste just as good from a single big platter. If she were traveling even a mile or two, I could understand all this. But she basically could throw the food out of her back door into her guests’ mouths, so the need for all this trash eludes me. That goes for the HALF bottles of bubbly as well.

She adds a “good” napkin. I think they’re paper. Ina festoons each bag with a perfect piece of parchment paper, billowing from the top. It DOES look festive and grand, but, if it were me, I would grab those pieces of parchment paper 3 seconds after the guests removed them and run them back to the kitchen to be used again...and not as wrapping. (I don’t actually use parchment paper, but I would still try to rescue it.)

We learn that she’s packing 6 bags total. Ina puts them all out as Barbara and the other guests arrive. Everyone unpacks his bag – at the table, not on a blanket…no TR in sight. Jeffrey tries to steal some of Ina’s shrimp and she fends him off. I KNEW she didn’t like to share. Then they click champagne bottles (with straws) and the feast begins.

Adorable Jeffry says this is the greatest picnic he’s ever had and HE’S going to do the dishes. (Harhar).

Maybe I’ll count off a few things I loved about this episode myself:
Flawless food.
Incomparable Ina.
Great pals to share it with.
But Leo needs to have a talk with the Contessa…or more likely her producers.


Lynn said...

First of all, despite the extreme envy I have for Ina, I do like her. Her cooking always looks like something I could do, however I probably would never be quite as tidy as she is about things....I know she has people wiping/prepping/etc...although I pretend she doesn't.

That being said, all that paper product that she wrapped up her picnic in reminds me of how much money that woman must have. In every show there never seems to be any thought to costs.

Splurge away Ina, it must be fun!

(I'm the one that previously commented on the fortune she must have payed for the flowers she made for the counter when she had Frank over for her casual lunch).


Tom said...

Hi Sue,
That was seriously funny. You know the only reason Jeffrey has to continue working is to keep Ina in "good" ingredients! Back in my former life doing enviro work I was examining greenhouse gas emissions of large companies, including Alcan. A reporter from the Montreal Gazette called me to ask about Alcan and told me that Jeffrey was on their board of directors! She asked if it was worth going to the board meeting to ask questions or if she should just take the Alcan propaganda for what it was (in other words, blah blah blah). I told her she should find out if Ina was going to make the food for the meeting and then decide whether to go or not!

You know, I've always accepted blindly that baked goods need salt, but now that you've talked about it, I'll experiment and make some cookies with and without it. I'll let you know how they come out.


Sue said...

Hi Lynn,
I ADORE Ina, but with each new layer of packaging, I could hear Mother Earth crying outloud.

It's funny, I don't usually get bent out of shape about costly ingredients (except with Padma the other day), because usually you can substitute other stuff, but using perfectly good (and costly) parchment paper that way really got to me. BUT I still love and worship Ina and I don't care if she's a princess or a pauper, she has a joie de vivre that we could all learn from.

That's funny. I would have gone to the meeting just to see Jeffrey himself.

I will bet that you will prefer the cookies with salt. I told you I'm the ONLY one that gets bothered by that. But I would love to have you join my side.

Anonymous said...

Hi Sue:

I was wondering, should I store my oil in the fridge? I use extra virgin olive oil for most things except baking and for that I use vegetable oil.

I love all things Ina. I feel like I've become a better hostess and cook because of her show.


Sue said...

Take those oils and get them in the fridge, NOW...especially if they are stored anywhere near the stove...and even if they aren't.

I have to decant mine from a big can, so I keep some in wide-mouthed jam jars and some in that skinny-necked type bottle to pour easily. For the skinny bottle, I just take it out of the fridge a bit before I need it and it's fine to pour.

Ina is the best and anyone could learn about effortless (looking) entertaining from her.

JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

I have always like Ina. Even though I have never followed her religiously like some, ever time I do see her food it looks good.

I honestly never put salt in baked good either, unless it is was a DB challenge or something. However, I do like salt in choc chip cookies! That is the only time I *like* the salty with sweet!

Anonymous said...

it may have been said here or somewhere before, but it seems to me that Ina is becoming the Julia Child of the 21st century.

now that may sound presumptuous or pompous or preemptive or premature...(hey i'm on a run of "P" words so don't try to stop me now :)), but it may also be a bit true.

this woman can cook. 'nuf said.

Emily said...

Good comments.

I've made these ginger cookies before and they were very good. I love the cookie dough tip. Wouldn't it be wonderful to have chocolate chip cookie dough on hand?

So yes, how come she doesn't grate her nutmeg? That's always driven me crazy. Maybe her ground nutmeg is incredibly fresh.

Beth said...

I loved the look of the ginger cookie recipe. But did you catch the continuity error? When she puts them on the cookie sheet, she just lightly pats them down so they are still fairly rounded.

Then there's a cut to her with a trayful of cookies that are considerably flattened (more like what you do for peanut butter cookies). Then cut to her putting a tray in the oven, and they are back to being fairly rounded.

No major consequence I guess, but if/when I make the cookies, I'll probably experiment to see which works best!

Sue said...

I’m glad I’m not the only saltless one. If the salt in the cookies is a huge grey salt or fancy mild one sprinkled on top, I guess I could see that. But IN the batter? Not for me.

Hi Anon,
Ina certainly does have a lot to offer us. But I’m not sure the phenomenon of Ina would have been possible without Julia. SHE got us all in the kitchen in the first place. And maybe we had to go through her 7 page recipes in order to be ready for the shortcuts that Ina offers us.

But Ina certainly does share the zest for life that Julia had!

That’s good to know that the master baker liked these cookies. Yes, having chocolate chip cookie dough on hand would be quite marvelous. Are you sending some now?

The nutmeg thing is a puzzle. Even if she goes through a bottle a month, NOTHING takes the place of fresh.

No, Beth!
I didn’t notice that! That WOULD make a difference. The more they’re flattened out, the crisper they would be. I think I would press down just a bit. I like a bit of chew in the middle.

Tracy said...

That's an interesting point you make about the amount of paper she uses. I've always thought the way she does things makes it such an "event." But yep, that would be a lot of trash.

Sue said...

Hi Tracy,
It's funny, this was the first show where that really bothered me. I guess because she was taking the food about 3 feet away from the kitchen that I thought all the packaging was a tad unnecessary.