Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Tex Mex Cook Off – Part Two: Ina Cooks With Devon Fredericks

Barefoot Contessa with Ina Garten

Tex Mex

Devon's Award-Winning Chili

La Fondita Fish Tacos


Pink Grapefruit Margaritas

Tequila Lime Chicken

Ina may have an advantage over Giada in the Tex-Mex challenge of my imagination. She’s making Pink Grapefruit Margaritas. Of course, she is.

Ina is cooking with her friend, Devon Fredericks, previous owner of Loaves and Fishes. Ina asks her why this is an award-winning chili that Devon is showing her today. Devon shrugs her shoulders and says it won an award many years ago, so it’s award winning. Makes sense. (Let’s get to those margaritas, Contessa.) Fun fact: Devon is married to Eli Zabar.

Devon starts with big hunks of brisket, 5 POUNDS of it. Why brisket, Ina wants to know, because “it’s NEW YORK chili.”

Ina adds oil to the pan, as they agree that the meat has to be really well browned, à la Julia. Devon has dried off the meat with paper towels to help that along.

Devon chops onions, while Ina browns the meat, reminding us to be sure not to crowd the pan. And Devon says each side must be browned. Ina says that’s not her favorite task, but she’ll do it. Ina adds the second batch of meat. She has the most beautiful hands and nails.

They each chop a green pepper. Ina reminds us of her quick trick – cut down on all sides of the pepper around the seeds and stem. Then you don’t have to bother with cleaning the ribs off and getting rid of the seeds.

Ina giggles as she asks Devon if she (Ina) did a good job browning the meat. Devon couldn’t be happier with how she did. Ina is simply the most delightful person in the universe. I can’t imagine her sullen or silent.

They remove the meat from the pan and add the onion and garlic to the oil, and cook them until soft. Next Devon wants to add the dried spices before the liquids. A cook after my own heart. AND I don’t have to wait around to see if she adds cumin (like I had to with Giada – and in vain)! Devon adds A LOT. I’m loving Devon. She adds 2 tablespoons of cumin and 2 tablespoons of chili powder. It IS for 5 pounds of meat, so that’s not extreme.

Then she adds cayenne and red pepper flakes. Devon says exactly what I always worry about. She cooks the spices NOW, so they don’t have a raw flavor.

My rule is after the onions are softened and before any liquid goes in, you stir in the warm spices (cumin, curry, paprika, and the like) over super low heat for at least two minutes, preferably three.

Ina says to cook the onions and spices together for 8 to 10 minutes. I would cook the onions for eight to ten minutes and THEN add the spices and cook for another two or three.

They chop tomatoes and Ina says that in the winter canned tomatoes are better. They add the peppers and tomatoes from the cutting board, as they laugh about dripping tomatoes everywhere. Ina says that’s an advantage of canned tomatoes. Devon adds a bay leaf, salt and pepper. The chili cooks for two and a half hours.

The two gals go off to curl up with cashmere blankets and watch a movie. Wouldn’t you just LOVE to cook with Ina?

They taste the chili for seasoning. Devon wants to add a bit more salt. May I suggest a touch of red wine vinegar? It’s MY secret to chili (à la Craig Claiborne) and I’ve never made a batch that wasn’t improved by it.

Devon wants to add one more ingredient. Ooh, maybe it’s red wine vinegar. No, it’s coffee. Interesting. Kind of like adding chocolate to a mole.

Ina says it’s really surprising how one splash of VINEGAR or a bit of coffee can really add a lot of flavor to a big stew. Does that mean she’s itching to add some vinegar? I say, go for it, Contessa. Nope, they put the lid on and cook it, vinegarless, for another hour.

Ina says it’s six o’clock somewhere in the world and she wants to make a cocktail for them. (I love her.) She says you can make everything in advance, including salting the glasses. She rubs a lime wedge around each glass and dips the glasses lightly into a pie plate of salt. She sets them aside to dry.

Ina pours one cup of ruby red grapefruit juice into a blender. (I would be tempted to forget the tequila and add utterly delicious Ruby Red Absolut) She adds ½ cup lime juice, 1 cup orange liqueur, two cups of ice and blends it until smooth and thick. She pours it into a large pitcher and adds a cup of white tequila. She refrigerates the cocktails until ready to serve. Ina pours out the drinks, (there are enough for 8 people) as she reminds us to use fresh lime juice.

Back to the chili, Devon adds beans and basil. It sounds like she would normally add chopped cilantro at the end, but there’s a Contessa in the room who doesn’t like it, so Devon is adding basil instead.

They serve it up in two big bowls. No pasta, no rice? No cornbread? Ina LOVES it. They haven’t put anything on top. Oh, they’re just kind of tasting…from their two huge bowlfuls. They will serve it with all kinds of other things.

Ina gets ready bowls of sour cream; grated cheddar cheese; diced tomatoes; store bought taco chips and guacamole. This is how she makes the guacamole: 4 avocadoes, halved and scooped out, 3 tablespoons of lemon(?) juice, 8 dashes of Tabasco, ½ cup diced red onion, a minced clove of garlic, kosher salt and pepper. That’s basically my recipe, except that I use lime juice and tons of cilantro and tomatoes. Oh, Ina chops the mixture and THEN adds diced tomatoes. Yum.

Ina sets the table with pumpkin napkins and a colorful cloth with a big orange stripe down the middle. She sets out all the extras for the chile and takes the top off the pot. That’s it for the chili segment. I guess the crew gets to eat all of that.

Next Ina answers Tex Mex questions from her viewers. The first person asks her the difference between red pepper flakes and cayenne pepper. Isn’t one in FLAKES and the other in a powder?

Ina is lovely (unlike me) and says they both come from red chilies, but cayenne is ground and very intense. The flakes, she says are less intense, because they’re flakes. She says not to substitute one for the other or “you’ll blow the heads off your guests”. That’s never good...mostly.

In the second question, a gal wants a recommendation for a fish Tex Mex dish. Ina gets her friend Chef Joe Realmuto from La Fondita (remember him?) to give us his fish taco recipe.

She sends things over to Joe in his kitchen. He makes a chipotle mayo with 1½ cups of mayo, 1/2 tablespoons of lime juice, cilantro, 2 1/2 tablespoons of chipotle purée and salt.

Then Joe makes a batter for the fish with eggs, beer, dry mustard, chili powder, salt and sugar. He whisks in some flour to finish the batter. He dredges the cod fish in flour and then the batter and deep fries it.

Joe warms up some white corn tortillas and dabs them with the mayo. Actually, that’s more than a dab. He salts the finished fish and places it on top of the tortilla. He adds a bit of shredded cabbage and voila. Ina says she’s going to be right over.

Next question is from an email. Doris wants to make a special Tex Mex dinner. Ina suggests her Tequila Lime Chicken. You marinate the chicken in gold tequila, (does Ina keep every color of tequila in her pantry?) lime juice, fresh orange juice, chili powder, garlic, jalapeno, salt and pepper. She marinates it for 6 hours or overnight. Then she grills the chicken until nicely cooked.

Ina says she could use a pink grapefruit margarita right then. YES, so could I, no matter what time it is.

So which menu wins out? What do you think? I think Devon’s chili is pretty darn special and I’d love to try adding coffee to mine. Plus who can beat cocktails with Ina? Giada's piñata is fun, but ruby red margaritas are a real excuse for a party.


The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

I think the party should be judged by who has better friends? Would you rather eat with Giada's Hollywood types, or Ina's gay Hamptons boys? :-D

I'm not down with grapefruit, so even though Ina has a slight advantage with the idea of a cocktail, I don't think I'd want to drink it.

I'd love to see the two of these women in a REAL throwdown. Hampton Socialite vs. Hollywood Royalty. Both women seem to have similar kitchen competencies, so they wouldn't need assistance from other chefs (so the competetion would really be Giada vs. Ina instead of Bobby vs. Mario). Would Giada's enormous head eclipse Ina's consant giggles? Would Giada's flawless Italian get on the judge's nerves more than Ina's rhetorical quesitons? I should write to the Food Network and tell them to do this!

And don't say you aren't lovely!

Sue said...

That's a good point about the other folks at the party. Would I rather talk to Devon about Zabar's and Loaves and Fishes or Giada's friends about waxing and botox? KIDDING!!! Giada's friends look really nice and anyone that carts back a piñata from Mexico deserves a couple of fajitas thrown her way. I'm still voting for Ina's party, though.

I didn't say just plain grapefruit juice, I said RUBY RED grapefruit juice. It's like the difference between skim milk and heavy cream.

A REAL throwdown would be good. I think Ina would just wow the judges with her potent cocktails and Giada would use some other gifts to have her way with the judges. I'm talking about her fresh Italian cooking, of course.

ANYONE pales in comparison to Ina's loveliness, but I'll take the compliment happily.

Ciao Chow Linda said...

I'm sorry I missed these shows - particularly Ina's - I love all her cooking.

SayGrace said...

I'm soooo glad you voted for Ina (and cumin - can it really be Tex-Mex without cumin?) But I think you were dead on with the ID of the ruby red grapefruit margarita as the element that put things over the top. I worked in a Mexican restaurant all through college, and, while the bartenders would sling plain ol' triple sec and lime slushies at folks all night long, it was only after we locked the doors, started balancing the tills, and served up the staff snacks after 2 am, that they'd bring out the gorgeous grapefruits (fresh!) and turn them into unblended but beautiful margaritas for all of us worker bees. They were what kept most of us willing to work such ridiculous hours in such horrendous uniforms for all those years!

Sue said...

Hi Linda,
These were good shows, I agree. I could watch Ina forever.

That is sooo interesting. I love that they treated the staff to the good stuff.

One of the things I love about Ruby Red Grapefruit is that they're not available all year round, so when I find them, they actually are a treat. And they're sooo sweet with just the right amount of tartness. They really do make the perfect base for a cocktail. I guess that's the allure of the pomegranate too. Sweet enough, but with some tartness to add verve. AND the color (of both) is superb. Gosh, I'm getting thirsty...

SayGrace said...

Okay - it's on...
Saturday night; invent the perfect pomegranate/ruby red grapefruit cocktail... I'm thinking a tiny splash of ouzo might be the ticket. Yum! Are we there yet?

Sue said...

Do we have to wait until Saturday?

And I am so leaving out the tequila AND ouzo and going for the Ruby Red Absolut, which I could drink by the bucketful, as well as dab behind my ears just for good measure.

Anonymous said...

This may be the first time I've seen the episodes you recap, they were back to back on Monday so I saw them at the gym. (It makes me feel virtuous burning 1,000 calories while watching both shows!)

Tough to pick a winner, I thought both were sub-par efforts for their hosts. Props to Giada for making churros (the pastry bag/scissors technique was excellent) but by the time the "guests" ate them, they'd be unpalatable. And why would anyone turn to Ina as a Tex-Mex "expert" when the entire show was other people's food?

A real live contest would be fun. Both women have had demanding food businesses, but I suspect Ina has a bigger store of knowledge for a mystery theme. Haven't seen Ina live, but Giada is dynamite in front of an audience (she appeared at a wine/food show where I was an exhibitor).

Sue said...

Uh-oh, Tom,
If I knew you were watching, I might have been more careful...I didn't make anything up, did I?

Yeah, you're probably right that both shows could have been more challenging. But that's their shtick at the moment. I bet BOTH of them are superb at live events, but I agree that Ina may have a leg up in the experience department.