Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Ina Weaves Her Own Magic Plus Her Kitchen Beautiful

The Barefoot Contessa with Ina Garten

The Magic Factor

Chocolate Ganache Cupcakes

Easy Cheese Danish

Chicken Salad Sandwiches

Ina is writing an article about the magic ingredient that unlocks the flavor in food. I’m not sure what she means…is she talking about ONE magic ingredient for everything or different ones?

Oh I see what she’s doing. She’s giving different examples of how to perk up certain foods AND she’s organizing a taste test to prove her theories. She’s making cheese Danish with and WITHOUT lemon zest; chicken salad with and without tarragon (the one WITHOUT wins for me, I despise tarragon) and ganache with and without her must-add of coffee. This will be fun, but I think I know where the chips will lie without having a single bite.

I DO like the “new” music. (I know it’s not exactly brand new anymore, but it’s peppy.)

Ina carries a brown paper bag into the kitchen, from which she takes a bunch of lemons. (Ina, reusable bags are the way to go at the market.) She puts 8 oz. of cream cheese in a mixing bowl with 1/3 cup of sugar and creams that well. She adds 2 tablespoons of ricotta, vanilla, 2 egg yolks and a pinch of salt. She mixes that all until smooth.

Ina lays out some thawed (overnight) puff pastry on the floured counter and rolls it out to a 10” by 10” square. She cuts it in quarters and tells us to flour the knife, if it sticks. Smart. The Contessa puts a tablespoon of filling the middle of each square. She doesn’t say this, but don’t overfill them. She brushes the edges with egg wash and brings together the opposite corners so they overlap. More egg wash and onto a baking sheet they go.

The second batch is going to have lemon zest added to it. Ina mixes it into the filling and makes the Danish in the same way using the lemony filling. She marks the parchment paper so she can tell the difference. She chills them.

Ina shows us a quick scenario of other recipes where lemon zest can make a difference - apple pie, blueberry crumb cake, pancakes, angel food cake AND in savory dishes as well, like the herb crust for a rack of lamb. It’s also great in her Broccoli and Bowties dish, she says.

Speaking of the Contessa’s other dishes, did anyone see the October House Beautiful which features “The Kitchen of the Year”? How did I not know about this and that it was at Rockefeller Center from July 20th to the 24th?

Here’s the video of Ina giving a tour of this magnificent kitchen to the editor of House Beautiful, Stephen Drucker. She says the kitchen is the new living room. Then Drucker asks her to explain the “work triangle” as if it’s the theory of relativity. She doesn’t laugh at him. She’s sweet as she explains the fridge, sink and stove need to be fairly close to each other, so you don’t have to roller skate across the kitchen to reach them.

Ina says she likes having the kitchen in as big a room as possible, but to keep the actual workspace fairly small. AND, most importantly, she plans it so that noone has to walk through her work space going from one door to the other. Now THAT is a fabulous point. I’m thinking about my kitchen. Yeah, that’s true…kind of.

Stephen Drucker is actually sweet. He remarks on her amazing smile. Oh wait, he said STYLE not smile, but BOTH APPLY. And he says that she combines traditional elements with modern ones for a really unique look. Agreed.

Another thing Ina says to him, which is a rule that I live my life by, is that she doesn’t like divided sinks. I can’t stand them.

The October House Beautiful has FIFTY (count’em 50!!!) ideas of Ina's for the kitchen. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Open shelves, so you can unload the dishwasher quickly. (My dishes are in cabinets, but my pots are on a baker’s rack, so I can grab them.)
  • A countertop crock filled with utensils. Ina has one for wooden implements and one for stainless steel. (I don’t have that many wooden ones.) A corollary to this is to keep serving spoons out to make it easier when something needs to be stirred (or served).
  • A shelf over the stove for constantly used items, like Kosher salt. (THAT’S where MY Kosher salt IS!)
  • Long cabinet handles are easier to grab than little knobs. (I WISH I had done that.)
  • Flour and sugar in 2 gallon jars on the countertop. (I don’t keep mine on the countertop, but I have them in big containers.)
  • She says to invest in two dishwashers to make cleaning up from parties easier. I WISH! And let’s remember this IS Ina we’re talking about, who probably has a party (or two) a day!
  • The last one is my favorite: “Fill a big bowl with ice and Champagne and it will immediately feel like a party.” So Ina.

Okay, back to her actual kitchen where Ina takes the Danish out of the fridge and puts them into a 400ºF oven for 20 minutes. She arranges them in separate pans, so the testers don’t get confused. When they come out of the oven, Ina sends them off to her office and then does her own taste test as well. She definitely likes the lemon zest one better; the office folks agree.

Ina moves on to chicken salad sandwiches. She has fresh tarragon (from her garden). She has already roasted chicken breasts, on the bone with the skin for 35 minutes at 350ºF. She drizzles them with olive oil and lots of Kosher salt and pepper.

The Barefoot One chops 1 cup of celery and adds ¾ of a cup of mayo. She pulls off the skin and cuts the meat off the bone and into bite-sized chunks. She seasons it well and stirs it to mix. She puts a bit of mayo on the bread with some mesclun and tops it with the chicken salad. Ina makes two sandwiches like that.

Remember when Giada made a sandwich and acted like it was the most complicated thing in the world? Ina prefaced HER sandwich making with “EVERYONE knows how to make a sandwich.” Thank you, Ina, for not pretending to be inventing the light bulb. (And LOOK, what’s happening with those!)

Ina chops the tarragon and adds it to the chicken salad and makes two more sandwiches with THAT chicken salad. The office gals taste both sandwiches. They prefer B by lots. They call Ina with the results. She says she knew they’d choose that.

Do they just sit around the office waiting Ina to summon them for taste tests? I hope those jobs comes with a gym membership and regular HDL testing.

Ina’s secret ingredient for chocolate is coffee. For cupcakes, she beats ¼ pound of room temperature butter with 1 cup of sugar. (She always leaves her butter out overnight. I never have the nerve. What if a raccoon got into the kitchen?)

She adds 4 room temperature eggs, one at a time, into the KitchenAid. Ina says she never cracks them on the edge of the bowl to avoid getting shells in the batter. (She also breaks the eggs into a separate bowl - one at a time - so if there’s anything skuzzy about the egg, she doesn’t ruin the entire batter.)

Ina adds one 16 oz. can of chocolate syrup (!!!) and vanilla. Then she adds in one cup of flour on low speed.

She lines cupcake pans with liners. (All the liners are an elegant white. Of course, they are.) She scoops half the batter into the liners with an ice cream scoop. No leavening? Oh, Ina says the batter has no leavening and, because of that, you can fill them up all the way.

To the remaining batter, she adds 1/2 teaspoon of instant ground coffee and fills the cupcake pan with the second batter. They bake at 325ºF for 30 minutes. Ina says people always love dessert, no matter what they say.

Next Ina makes a ganache for the frosting. She heats 8 ounces of chocolate chips with 1/2 cup of cream in a double boiler.

She texts her assistant, Barbara, to come over.

Ina takes half the cooled cupcakes and just dips them into the ganache quickly and easily. That’s cool, although I think they could use a bit more icing. When was the last time you heard THAT about anything that Ina cooked?!!

She adds ½ teaspoon of coffee powder to the rest of the ganache. She dips the ones that have coffee in them into the coffee-ed ganache.

She packs them into two cardboard boxes. This time, she’s sneaky and makes the ones she likes A instead of B. The office folks all prefer A. They say they’re more chocolatey. C’mon! If you worked for Ina for even one minute, you’d know that that she always puts coffee with chocolate.

Barbara asks what the secret is. Ina says it’s magic and snaps her fingers and disappears. Really…with anyone else, that would come off as hokey, but with Ina it’s just adorable. I love her, I really do, and her kitchen beautiful almost as much.


Tom said...

I hate to say it, Sue, but this episode came off as way too contrived for me. The concept could have been good. But she made the chicken salad and cupcakes before on the show, and went on and on the tarragon and the coffee then, too. (She mentions the coffee pretty much every time she makes something with chocolate in it). This whole season has seemed tired and the food was, with just a few exceptions, unremarkable. "Turning the volume up" hasn't done it for me, even though I do still get some tips (and I loved that she doesn't feel the need to go on about making a sandwich, lol!)

I know you'll probably want to have me dragged into Ina's designer barn and shot, but maybe she and her production company need to sit down and think hard about some different concepts for next season that exploit what Ina does best. The kitchen design bit was interesting and a refreshing change of pace. She has been on FN so long that it's inevitable that there will be some repitition, but perhaps it can be packaged in a way that utilizes her catering and home cooking experience to help people plan for a variety of parties, dinners, and events.

This was definitely a longer comment than I planned -- I'll be quiet now!

Sue said...


Just kidding, Tom. You remember when I said that only Ina could get away with that silly ending? I suppose that's somewhat true about the entire show. There was nothing earth shattering, but you have to admit (even though you were disappointed) that Ina's more entertaining making sandwiches than most people are doing...whatever. Yes, definitely, there should be a bit more oomph to the episodes, but, fair or unfair, Ina gets a pass.

Those are some good ideas for her show, but, frankly, unless it's gorgeous TR (or someone famous that I can gape at), I'm not interested in watching her help the little people plan a party. I want to see HER parties. (I'm awful.)

Sheila said...

I think I should design my kitchen to be just like Ina's. Yep. (Can't I just snap my fingers too?)

Thanks for the link about her kitchen - it was really interesting!

About the butter - Really? Raccoons? Where do you live?!? Can't you put it some fancy butter dish with a cover? My parents have a plastic one where the lid snaps on. How do you butter your bread when its so cold? :-)

I put coffee in a brownie batch not too long ago. I didn't like the coffee taste. But I bet I would like anything Ina makes...

Kris said...

I know that sometimes when I watch Ina I cringe inside as things seem a bit contrived but that doesn't stop me from watching and loving almost every minute of it! I'm not sure how fans would like a revamped show- when this season started and the music was changed, that little thing just through me off! (Not really, but I noticed the change!)

I've tried the coffee in the chocolate and like that, yesterday I made her Pear/Apple Crisp and loved that. (2 sticks of butter in the topping!) I love her recipes and have a bunch just waiting to be tried.

Now I'm off to watch the HB video!

Sue said...

You can definitely take some ideas from Ina without having a million dollar budget.

Ants! Raccoons! It's all the same difference. I'm nervous about leaving anything out. And I don't butter my bread. If anything, I use my own jarred Caesar salad dressing on toast. Is that weird? It's good!

Interesting that you could pick out the coffee taste. Ina says it's subtle and just makes it more chocolatey. I LIKE the coffee taste, so I'd love those brownies. Hint, hint.

Hiya Kris,
The best example of the fake situations is when she interrupts Rob Marshall as he's editing NINE and just happens to bring breakfast for his whole group. WHO DOES THAT? AND THEN she comes back to bring them lunch and he shows her (and us) a preview. BUT with Ina, somehow it's okay, because I do feel like all her friends would drop anything to get a food basket from her. I sure would!

You were brave to use both sticks of butter. I admit I have an automatic editing function when I make her recipes.

That video made me sooo jealous that I didn't see the real thing.

and this blog said...

Talk about how we didn't know about it! I work so close to Rockefeller and I didn't even see that enormous poster!!!??? =(

Nandini Vishwanath said...

I love Ina. Classy is the word. I'm tired of most other contrived shows on FN now. Just Ina, Giada (not always) and sometimes Tyler (for his kitchen and for the fact that he doesn't do time saving or money saving or calorie saving meals. Just good ol' food.

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

I can't think of a single recommendation for kitchens that I actually have. I suppose if I had gone with the professional kitchen designer instead of opting for my super's BIL, the insane Bulgarian contractor who worked cheap and under the table, and had his equally mad cousin build our cabinets, my kitchen might be a little more functional, but it still looks good and I can still cook in it.

I hated tarragon for years and in the past year or two, I changed my mind. I like it in my chicken salad now.

When you live on the second floor, you don't have to worry about raccoons in your kitchen, so maybe I'll try the butter trick some day. Then again, raccoons are crafty critters. I hear them fighting/mating/playing in the trees at night all of the time. Who knows if they might find a way to jump onto my balcony and crawl indoors?