Wednesday, November 18, 2009

My Excellent Contessa

The Barefoot Contessa with Ina Garten

Thanksgiving 2.0

Roast Turkey with Truffle Butter

Turkey Hashed Browns

Sausage-Stuffed Mushrooms

Ina is having her good friend Sarah Chase over to cook with her. AND she’s going to show us three table settings and answer some viewers questions. How will she get this all in?

I’m sorry to all who disagree, but I LOVE Ina's opening music now. It has the same bump and grind (well, maybe swing and sway is more accurate) that I imagine Ina engages in, while she’s in the kitchen on her own. It makes me happy, just the way Ina does.

Ina tells us that she loves Sarah Chase’s Open House Cooking and Cold Weather Cooking. And she also loves that Sarah worked on a Thanksgiving turkey hotline, so she knows everything there IS to know about cooking a turkey.

They’re going to put white truffle butter under the skin of the turkey. Sarah loosens the skin and remarks that you don’t want to have a big rock on your finger, which could tear the skin. Ina says, "WELL, you want to have a big rock on you hand, just NOT while you’re making the turkey.” I wanna be in that kitchen making jokes with the gals too.

Sarah takes “wads” of truffle butter and puts it under the skin, which will keep the breast moist and “perfume the entire bird”. Ina cuts up an unpeeled onion to go inside (no stuffing). They agree that stuffing the bird isn’t a good thing, because by the time the stuffing is cooked the bird is overcooked and then you don’t get crunchy stuffing.

Well, I hate the crunchy part of the stuffing and I’m willing to risk a slightly drier bird for the amazing flavor that the stuffing gives the bird and the bird gives the stuffing. (I told you I liked Sunny’s non-judgemental approach to the stuffing issue.)

Sarah salts and peppers the inside of the bird and adds the onion, a split head of unpeeled garlic and a bunch of thyme. Sarah tells her wackiest turkey story. A woman got an extra turkey at Thanksgiving and put it in her garage freezer. The garage - and everything in it - burned down and the turkey was roasted perfectly.

Then Ina and Sarah agree that everyone forgets to take out the giblets at least once. I’m guilty of that (with a chicken), but, luckily, I remembered before it went it into the oven.

The craziest turkey story I know is when years and years ago we were invited to a huge Thanksgiving dinner when we lived overseas. The baking elements in the oven of the hostess stopped working shortly after the turkey went in, so she BROILED the whole thing, covering it with foil to save some of it, at least, from burning. I don’t remember, but I hope I was smart enough not to eat it. Do you have any crazy turkey stories?

The craziest one Ina ever heard is that a friend put her turkey in the oven and went for a walk. When she came back she couldn’t get the oven open. Why? Because she had set it to “clean”. They had to unscrew the door to get the turkey out. She said she served it and it was very clean. I think that fits the urban legend category.

Ina asks what the most popular misconception is with turkeys. Sarah’s answer is interesting. She says people think they have to fuss over it too much – like brining it for days, getting up and starting it at 3 in the morning, cooking it at different temperatures. Ina adds “They want to FRY it.” (You know, basically every single thing I talked about here.) Sarah says you don’t have to do all of that.

They tie up the turkey and Sarah spreads olive oil all over it, “almost like suntan lotion without the SPF”. Then she sprinkles fresh thyme over the top “in a French bistro manner” and follows it with lots of salt and pepper. She cooks it at 325°F for 2½ to 3 hours, until the white meat measures 160°F.

Ina says to cover the breast with foil about halfway through after the breast is browned and not to baste at all if you want the skin to be crisp. Of course, THAT makes such sense and I never thought of that before.

I like that method too. I used to cover it at the beginning and then brown it at the end. But, now, I like having the browning out of the way and not taking the chance of overcooking the turkey, while you’re waiting for it to brown.

Sarah and Ina say to place the thermometer in the center of the breast and it should measure 160°F. Take it out and cover tightly with foil for 20 to 25 minutes. I would add here TURN IT UPSIDE DOWN, while it’s resting.

Sarah is in charge of carving. She removes the strings. To get beautiful breast meat slices, she stabs the turkey with a fork at the top and makes a deep cut parallel to the turkey’s breastbone (which is basically parallel to the work surface). Then from the top, she goes down in thin, even slices. The resting makes it carve beautifully. Ina pours the juices into a sauce boat. (No gravy?)

She cuts off the legs and arranges it all on a platter. Ina spoons over the juices. They taste it. Ina says it’s the best turkey she’s ever had.

Ina says she doesn’t love soggy stuffing (I do!) and Sarah gave her the idea to make it into a separate dish and load the stuffing into mushroom caps. How clever!

Ina has 16 white mushrooms caps and she's removed the stems. She douses them with 3 tablespoons of olive oil and 2½ tablespoons of Marsala. Or she says you may use sherry.

I love what Ina is doing. It makes so much sense to add the oil to the mushrooms FIRST and then cook them without adding any additional oil. Mushrooms will absorb all the oil you give them, like eggplants, and by tossing them in it first, you can limit (at least somewhat) the oil you need.

For the stuffing for the mushrooms, The Great One sautés three quarters of a pound of sweet Italian sausage in 2 tablespoons of olive oil until brown, about 8 to 10 minutes. She chops the mushroom stems and adds them to the cooked sausage with 6 chopped scallions and 2 minced garlic cloves. Then Ina adds two thirds of a cup of panko (what a rebel!) instead of bread cubes.

She stirs in 5 ounces of mascarpone. Yum and wow! She says to use the Italian one. I’m not sure I could even buy any other kind.

Off the heat, Ina adds 1/3 cup of Parm, chopped fresh parsley and salt and pepper. She wants the mixture well-seasoned for the mushrooms.

Ina places the mushroom caps in a baking dish and pours over all the juices from the bowl. She stuffs them with the sausage mixture – they look TOO good! – and bakes them at 325°F for 50 minutes. Or, Ina says, you can cook them hotter for less time, depending on what else you have in the oven.

This quote is why I love Ina: “Whoever said life is too short to stuff a mushroom couldn’t have been more wrong.” She continues, “But life’s definitely not too short to eat one,” tasting one with glee.

Ina’s at the Hampton Market Place in East Hampton. (Time for The Short (dis)OrderCook's game of taking a swig of something every time Ina says “good” as in “good vanilla”, or goes to a local place. I bet Ina would want to play too.)

Back at the house, Ina schools us in 3 different Thanksgiving table settings that she pulls together with things from a grocery store. (I guess she uses these when Miguel isn’t producing stage quality sets for her table.)

Setting Number One:

Waterproof runner with white tablecloth; white square plate and plain silver cutlery and wine glasses. Orange napkins, folded simply (oh, not like this). She takes orange tulips and puts them in drinking glasses and arranges them all down the length of the table.

The only problem with this is that I have so much food on the table that folks would actually have to drink their water from those glasses with the tulips, because I don’t have any extra room for flim-flammery on the table.

She adds the glasses with flowers in odd numbers and then places plates of clementines between the flowers. She adds white votive candles, which add sparkle. The final touch is pumpkin cookies with everyone’s name piped on them as place cards.

I DID see a great idea for place cards (Slide 4), where you paint the name of each guest on napkin rings to use as a place card. Initials would work too…

Setting Number Two:

Plain white cloth; “an elegant grey plate”; simple cutlery; “plain but elegant glasses (I guess you’re in trouble if you like a little bling on your glassware); a nice grey checked napkin; white votives down the center of the table. And NEVER USE SCENTED CANDLES, Ina says. She puts pumpkins right down the middle in all different sizes; then (because it’s fun, says Ina) silver bowls of candy corn. (Those wouldn’t make it to the table in my house.)

Really pretty, but absolutely no room for the food.

Setting Number THREE:

This one is a dessert table setting:

White runners set ACROSS the table; white plates, napkins to match the runners; simple cutlery, everyday glasses and votives down the center. The decoration IS the dessert. She arranges red sickle pears, French salted caramels on footed platters, clementines, and “bunches of grapes cascading over cake stands”. I like that as decoration, but I think I might say, “What’s REALLY for dessert?”

Next Ina gets questions from viewers. New ideas for appetizers? 3 bowls - salted cashews, salted potato chips and caper berries, so you can concentrate on cooking dinner. She’s told us that before.

Gravy? Sauté 2 chopped onions in turkey drippings until caramelized. Add ¼ cup of flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon pepper and cook for 3 minutes to get rid of the raw flour taste. Add 2 cups of hot chicken stock. Add 1 tablespoon of cognac and cook until thick. (I would strain that.)

How to spice up traditional recipes? Ina’s take – roasted Brussels sprouts. Put them on a sheet pan, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Cook at 400°F for 35 minutes. "They’re crunchy on the outside, salty and absolutely delicious.” It’s her favorite thing to do with Brussels sprouts.

What to do with the leftovers? Turkey hash. Put 1½ pounds of peeled, diced potatoes in a sauté pan with melted butter. Add 1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onions, salt and pepper. Cook on low heat for 15 to 20 minutes. When the potatoes are crisp and brown, add ½ pound of cubed leftover turkey. Off the heat toss in mint, scallions and parsley. Yum.

And Ina’s best advice of all:

“Surround yourself with people that you love, keep it really simple and have a very good time.”

I’ll drink to that!


Nutmeg Nanny said...

Here is my funny turkey story. Every year my older brother would make the turkey for our Thanksgiving. I don't know what he did but they always turned out moist and delicious BUT for some reason I swear it took forever to cook. Most of the time we were supposed to eat around 5pm and ended up actually eating around 9pm. The best part is that for 2 years in a row the oven caught on fire when the juices slopped out of the pan and fell on the bottom of the oven...haha. BTW the turkey still tasted awesome :)

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

It's nice to see there are some FN cooks who actually make whole turkeys. Didn't Ina just do breasts for a while? Blaspheme! My life is not complete without dark meat.

I really should post my complete drinking game one of these days.

It does crack me up how so many different cooks have so many different roasting methods. Maybe Ina's right. Just stick it in the oven!

Sue said...

Hey NN,
Thanks for the story. That's cool that your brother cooked. You know, when I was a kid, I remember the turkey taking forever to cook too. Now, my turkey is almost always done earlier than I think it should be 3and I don't get up at 6 am to put it in, like my mother did.

Hey Rach,
Alot of the FN folks are doing breasts. That's okay, but not for Thanksgiving. I agree. Dark meat is where it's at.

Yeah, could you please get the rules of your Drinking Along With Ina Game settled on!

I guess the simplest methods are sometimes the best, although I'm all for new tricks.

Emily said...

I don't have any crazy turkey stories. :(

Hey, what would happen if you roasted the whole bird upside down? Would the breast be good and juicy?

I love Ina. She's fabulous.

Your cheesecake is in the mail. Should arrive sometime around Christmas.

Sheila said...

I'm still debating whether or not to brine. I found an Alton B. brining recipe...

Em, last year we roasted our turkey upside down. It was VERY moist. But not very pretty. I can't remember if I browned it first and then turned it upside down or if I did it upside down and then turned it over last to be browned... I can try to find the directions if you want... I think this year we might just turn it upside down to rest - SUE STYLE! ;-)

Our turkey is always ready too soon too!