I caught a bonus episode of Ina this week. It was an old one, where she makes lunch for a windmill crew in exchange for a tour of the windmill. The food was classic Ina, but there were other aspects of the show that could be described as, well, campy. And, no, it wasn't because she and Jeffrey were rockin' it in a tent.
Here are a few highlights:
Ina starts with a brownie tart, which brings up the whole extra large egg issue. I wrote about that here.
Here’s an excerpt:
"Very few food writers use extra large eggs in their recipes, the standard is large. I almost think Ina's doing it as a way to stand out and make it harder for anyone to copy her.
THIS is the problem: a large egg is 2 ounces. An extra large egg is 2 1/4 ounces. Obviously, this matters when you're baking, not making omelets.
What to do? I have NEVER used extra large eggs. EVER. After great thought, this is what I've come up with. When I crack open an egg, I make sure to get every drop of egginess from the inside of the shell. That could be an extra teaspoon or so. I may not be using the size she specifies, but at least I'm getting every last bit of the egg that I AM using into the recipe. AND when I'm adding liquid to her baked recipes, I intentionally add perhaps a teaspoon more.
Even though I've baked plenty of Barefoot Contessa recipes, I've never used the correct size egg and it doesn't seem to matter (although theory says it should).
However, if you have a recipe that uses A LOT of eggs, 8 extra-large for example, that WILL make a difference - a 2 ounce difference to be exact, which conveniently is the size of a large egg. So that one is easy...8 extra-large eggs equal 9 large eggs exactly. It's when it's less than that that you have the issue.
Here's a rather confusing chart that seems to say that if the recipe calls for 4 extra-large eggs, do what you want, use 4 OR 5 large eggs. After that, use one more large egg than extra-large. Thus, if the recipe says 5 extra-large eggs, use 6 large and so on."
The leader of the Windmill repair group is a very cool-looking dude, who seems to know Ina. But I have a feeling that the other two carpenter guys were saying to themselves, “Who’s Ina and why is she inviting us for lunch?”
Okay, here’s the weird, very weird part…when Ina sets the table. OMG! It is just too funny.
She starts with a brand new DROP CLOTH. Whatever, that’s fine. Ina remarks that it’s actually nice linen. But THEN, she puts all this crap in the middle of the table – stuff that belongs more in a garage than on a luncheon table. She calls it “a bouquet of construction materials”.
It’s actually a singular lapse for an extraordinary tastemaker. Plus, wouldn’t you think they’d be a little offended not to have the usual Contessa vase of home-grown, gorgeous, similar-colored flowers? Of course, since they may not know who Ina is, they may not miss the normal Barefoot treatment that we’re accustomed to seeing.
Ina continues with the arrangement. The center of it consists of brushes and rollers, string and paint stirrers. Oh, and some paint chip cards. Lots of them. Luckily, she uses normal (white) plates and doesn’t make them eat off paint can lids. Normal silverware and linen napkins finish each setting.
I hope the glasses aren’t some skeevy cylinders from the hardware store. Wait, there’s more. More HUGE balls of string and MASKING TAPE go on next. I actually think Ina has flipped her lid.
Aside from being 100% inappropriate as a meal setting, she has put so much clutter on the table that there’s no room for anything else AND you can’t see across the sea of huge brushes and tools to the other side of the table. It’s really odd. AND she keeps going.
I’m not kidding that there is so much on this table that, first of all, it must have cost a thousand dollars, secondly, it’s too crowded and thirdly, IT DOESN’T BELONG ON A DINING TABLE!
I really have no idea what she was thinking. THERE’S STILL MORE! A hammer!!! The Contessa has actually put a hammer in the middle of the table. Nothing says fine dining like the tool you use for pounding nails into a wall…I guess we should be grateful that she hasn’t strewn nails all over the “tablecloth” to accent her theme.
This got me to thinking about how you would set the table based on your guests' occupations. The best would be a car mechanic. You could put greasy rotors (or whatever’s inside a car) around an old tire in the middle of the table. An Olympic athlete (summer games) could have dirty running shoes and athlete’s foot spray in the center, not to mention socks as napkins. Or maybe if you were entertaining an officer of the law, there could be some weaponry as a centerpiece, surrounded by handcuffs and a holster or two. Absurd. Right?
Listen, I have no problem with inventive table settings. I know I throw in the towel before I even begin and let the food BE the table setting. When I had tiny kids, I used to put their silver baby cups and silver framed pictures in the center of the table, but that kind of went along with the silver candlesticks. Paint brushes and huge balls of twine are another thing altogether.
Back in the kitchen (THANK GOODNESS!) Ina takes the brownie pie out of the oven.
She says she’s just going to make sure it’s cooked okay. I'm imagining her helping herself to a huge slice “just to see if it’s done”.
No, she only uses a skewer. But THIS is funny. The skewer comes out with completely raw batter sticking to it and Ina pronounces it done.
Dick is giving Ina a tour of the windmill. The episode gets more daffy from here. Ina is excited that they’re restoring the windmill that she’s looked at for years. She goes in. (Dick is cute. He’s got great hair and he’s wearing a
This is where it gets a little dicey. She goes up the first set of steep steps. She’s interested in what the windmill was used for – grain - and she wants to see the drive-wheel at the very top. Did they tell her that she’d have to mount a teeny tiny, skinny ladder to get there? I’m getting worried that Ina will break a foot or half her body and not be able to finish lunch to serve on the hardware tablescape.
Happily, she gets to the top okay, but we don’t see how she gets down. (I have a feeling it would be the same way I got down the last mountain I was forced to climb - using a well-padded body part to help me.)
Ina’s lunch for these “real guys” is individual meat loaves and buttermilk mashed potatoes. Nothing too earth shattering, but a nice hearty lunch. Actually, REALLY hearty. She’s using 2½ pounds of meat for four people.
Would you be shocked if I told you that I try to get away with a pound of meat in a meatloaf for four people? But I supplement it with grated carrots and zucchini and homemade breadcrumbs and sometimes leftover brown rice. Ina DOES make SIX individual meatloaves, though. Maybe she’s saving some for dinner.
Ina makes a nice
Back to the show, we see the guys hard at work at the windmill.
Ina cooks 3 pounds of potatoes (for 4 people, although the recipe says it makes 5 or 6 servings). For 4 people, I use the equivalent of 1 large potato per person and then perhaps one more. Ina has a good tip for keeping the mashed potatoes warm – put them over simmering water.
The guys finish up their latest task and head over to Ina’s.
The next scene is the carpenters being served by Ina amidst a heap of building supplies. Unhappily, we don’t see the guys' reaction to the table. (Maybe they didn’t even notice, but that’s pretty unlikely.)
Ina and Dick chat affably, while the other two eat happily. Oh, Dick does say something. He sees the cleanup supplies on the table and says that he won’t need any of those to help him clean his plate. Good one, Dick. (Although, they weren’t exactly CLEANING supplies.)
Ina excuses herself to garnish the brownie pie with squiggles of melted chocolate. She serves it and they eat it with gusto, while Ina offers to bring them lunch any day.
That was something. We got to see Ina go nuts in her literal translation of a table setting theme. We saw her dangerous climb in honor of preserving local history. And we saw her usual abundant food service. I know which one I hope to see again.