Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Barefoot Contessa - Dinner For Two With a Competition Thrown In

Honestly, I’m glued to what’s happening on the other side of the world. I have friends from those parts who were hours away from going back home and I’m so relieved they’re still here, but so worried for their families. Could there be anything further from that than the Barefoot Contessa? I don’t think so, but I needed a little reprieve and I thought maybe you did too.

Barefoot Contessa with Ina Garten

Jeffrey’s Dinner

Ina exclaims at the beginning of the episode that she is NOT making her usual chicken for his Friday night dinner. She says she’s serving mojitos. For dinner? Oh, for WHILE she’s MAKING dinner. AND she and Jeffrey are having a steak throwdown. She will be cooking it in the oven and he will be grilling.

By the way, I love that she’s using the term throwdown, which is such a nice homage to Bobby. Ina will clearly be the expert in this case with Jeffrey playing the part of the challenger.

Ina says she’s been making roast chicken for Jeffrey almost every Friday night for FORTY TWO years!!! “And between you and me, I’m a little sick of it.” So she came up with a steak contest.

With the steaks, she’s serving bruschetta with a homemade ricotta topping. Interesting. I do love the idea of toasted, oiled bread which often has garlic rubbed on it. What I HATE is the usual chopped tomato topping which is completely impossible to eat in an orderly fashion.

If you’re cocktail-partying it, then sloppy bits and pieces can fall on the floor. If you’re eating in a restaurant or bar, then the chopped up mixture can hit your lap. Who needs it? But Ina is making a nice stick-to-the-bread spread, which should be okay in terms of tidiness.

I do love THIS bruschetta-type mixture, but for the top of a chicken breast AND eaten with a knife and fork.

Ina is actually making her own ricotta. Into a big pot, she pours a quart of whole milk, 2 cups of cream and a teaspoon of salt. She brings the whole to a “full boil”.

She says there are so many things you can do with a homemade ricotta – use it in lasagna, make a dessert by adding sugar and cinnamon.

After it comes to the boil, she turns it off and adds 3 tablespoons of white wine vinegar (or any kind). That will make it separate into curds and whey. After a minute, she pours it into a strainer that’s been lined with 2 layers of cheesecloth.

The whey drips through to the bowl and the curds are left in the strainer. She leaves it for about half an hour, pouring out the liquid from the bottom of the bowl occasionally. The longer you leave it, the thicker the ricotta. That makes sense. This is so easy, why WOULDN’T anyone make this?

(Ina doesn’t say this, but you need AT LEAST 2 layers of cheesecloth or all your ricotta will go right through the large pores of the cloth. If that happens, just strain it again through several layers of cheesecloth this time.)

Ina told Jeffrey to bring home some charcoal when he asked if he could pick up anything. Is she saying that there aren’t bags of charcoal stacked up to the perfectly proportioned beamed ceiling in an architecturally perfect shed somewhere on her property?

We see Jeffrey going to get the charcoal. He’s a little worried, because “last time she asked me to do some grilling, there were a few problems and a few critiques.” As if Ina could be anything but gentle and grateful to her Jeffrey.

He gets to Thayers Hardware Store in Bridgehampton. We’re told on the screen that it’s 5pm. Is that something they do on Throwdown? I can’t remember. He gets the charcoal and starts for home.

Meanwhile, Ina tells us it’s not a real barbecue until the fire department shows up. She admits he’s a good griller, she just likes to keep him on his toes.

Ina is chopping up scallions for the ricotta and then chives (from her garden) and dill. Use whatever combination of herbs you like, she says. She likes the combo of 3 scallions, 2 tablespoons of chives and 1 tablespoon of dill.

Ina adds the strained cheese to the herbs and adds another teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of pepper. I know she’s rubbing the bread with garlic later, but I would still have liked a bit of garlic in there.

Oh goodie, cocktail time. Ina is making watermelon mojitos. She takes 30 leaves of fresh mint off the stem, while we see Jeffrey in the back getting his fire ready. What does his baseball hat say? Oh, “barefoot contessa”. Cute.

Ina crushes the mint with a mortar and pestle, apologizing for using “specialized equipment”. I forgive her. She puts big pieces of seeded watermelon in the food processor to make 2 cups of purée.

Ina adds the muddled mint to the bottom of a tall, clear glass pitcher. Then she pours over 1 1/2 cups of rum. Isn’t that a lot? I might start out a bit weaker. She adds the 2 cups of watermelon purée and 1/2 cup of sugar syrup. (Simmer equal amounts of sugar and water until the sugar dissolves. Store in fridge.) The last ingredient is 6 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lime juice (which is a ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons).

Ina brings out two (large) cocktails to the terrace where Jeffrey is setting the house, sorry, the coals on fire. Jeffrey loves the drink. Ina brushes sliced bread with olive oil and sprinkles over salt and pepper. They go on the grill. Jeffrey tries to help. Ina lets him…for a second.

He wonders what else they’re cooking. She tells him, “It’s not chicken!” Then she she tells him what she has in mind and he’s eager to compete with her. Wait! Aren’t they forgetting about the bread? It should be coming off the grill. Oh good, she takes it off and rubs it with garlic and then spreads over the herb ricotta. He likes it!

Okay, here we go. Ina is about to head for the kitchen and Jeffrey will go for the grill. Ina has oiled the outside of a 2 inch filet mignon and coated the outside with crushed peppercorns. She tells Jeffrey to grill the steak for 5 minutes on each side and then test it in the middle to see if it’s 125°F.

He runs a little test drive by sticking the thermometer into the raw steak.

Oy, Ina is probably cringing inside, because you don’t want to be poking and prodding your steak with sharp objects. All the juices will run out.

Plus there’s another issue – a hygiene alert. THAT thermometer MUST be washed before plunging it into the COOKED steak. Otherwise, you’re infecting the cooked steak with raw steak juices. Am I the only one worrying about that?

Back in the kitchen, Ina shows us her restaurant method of cooking the steak. She heats a cast iron pan for 5 to 7 minutes over high heat. She cooks her steak for 2 minutes on each side and on the edges.

Back to Jeffrey, he tests the steak and it’s 125°F. (No mention of a sterilized thermometer.) He wraps it in foil, just like he’s seen Ina do.

Back to Ina - she puts her secret ingredient of one tablespoon butter on top of the steak and it goes into a 400°F oven for 8 to 12 minutes, OH!, she forgot to tell Jeffrey about the butter. (Ina only forgets things intentionally.) She says she’s also cooking her to 125°F.

Jeffrey is lounging outside, waiting for Ina to finish and for him to win. She tests her steak. Perfect. 125°F. She lets it rest for 10 minutes, wrapped in foil.

Ina serves it with an arugula salad and a lemon vinaigrette – made with ½ cup of “good” olive oil, ¼ cup lemon juice, ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon of salt (that way too much) and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper. She drizzles it over some over the arugula and puts it on the plates.

Out on the terrace, they uncover their steaks at the same time. Ina says she’s going to cut hers with a gorgeous sharp knife and she hands him a dull-edged dinner knife to cut his. No, you don’t, he says.

They slice them up and put them on top of the salad with some shaved parmesan. They taste his steak first. They both love it and he says, “I WON!”

She says they have to taste hers first. He says incredulously, “That’s incredibly moist!” She admits that she might have done something a little different….that she might have put a little butter on hers. “YOU PUT BUTTER ON IT?!! And you gave me no butter!!!”

She says you can have my steak. He says, “Darn right, I want your steak.” Ina says she might have won, but it might have been by cheating. She says to stay tuned, because SHE’S getting grilled next…with barbecuing questions.

The first question is why she never cooks on a gas grill. She says she loves the flavor of charcoal, “but if you like the convenience, stick with the gas grill.”

The next question is whether one should start barbecued chicken and ribs inside and then finish them outside or do the whole thing outside. Ina says there are two ways to do it. (Actually, there are probably a million ways to answer that question. If I’m cooking a lot of chicken, I always cook it most of the way inside and then have H finish it on the grill.)

Ina says she usually does it all outside. The trick is to have a low fire with only one layer of charcoal.

The other way is to cook the chicken and ribs on a sheet pan at 350°F for 45 minutes to an hour. Then throw them on a really hot grill to sear the outside.

The next question is how to cook tuna steaks without overcooking them. Ina says they should be almost raw inside. She brushes olive oil on both sides of the tuna and sprinkles it (generously, of course) with salt and pepper. She grills it over really hot coals for 2 to 2½ minutes on each side. She says you can do the same thing on a really hot cast iron pan.

This episode demonstrates something that Ina does so well - highlighting a basic technique and showing us that a delicious meal can be a snap, even for someone who is cooking-challenged like Jeffrey. And, incidentally, many of this week’s recipes are in her new book, How Easy Is That?.

Okay, back to real life…unfortunately.


Lys said...

I really need to attempt that homemade ricotta. Have the ep. on the DVR - surprised that she went against the grain with making Jeffrey's Friday Night Dinner

Emily said...

It's terrible what's going on right now... I've been watching CNN all day. I hope your friends/loved ones are okay.

I love Ina and Jeffrey. They're so cute together. I wouldn't mind having a buttery steak right now. That sounds delicious. Instead I will have some Greek yogurt.

:) Hey, have you cooked any asparagus lately?

Sue said...

Let me know what you think when you've tried it.

Hey Em,
It's amazing to see what's unfolding. Everyone is okay for the moment.

Ina and Jeffrey are adorable. And they certainly don't need no asparagus to get things rockin'.

Anonymous said...

I've made Michael Chiarello's homemade ricotta -- a gallon of whole milk and a quart of buttermilk. You can't boil it because it will kill the buttermilk cultures, but otherwise it's pretty much the same. Ina's method is more commonly used to make paneer and gives you something that's a bit more like cottage cheese if you use just milk, but the added cream makes the curds smaller and so more like ricotta. But I think MC's still tastes better.

Most people throw out the whey liquid but you can use it for cooking rice or grains, plus my cats really like it!

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Real life? The one where not only is the world falling apart on the other side of the pond but on this side we're buried under snow andthings like watermelon mojitos and grilling are a mere memory?

I had to take a virtual drink for Ina's use of another "good" ingredient.

I had to laugh at your comments regarding bruschetta. You know what I can't stand? The idea that ANYTHING people put that tomato stuff on top of can be called "bruschetta" these days. Yeah, tomatoes on a Ritz are "bruschetta"!

Heather said...

I've made my own ricotta and it's as easy to make as boiling pasta. I used citric acid and a thermometer and the curds were large enough that I could strain it in a regular mesh strainer. Add a little salt, perfect and delicious.

Sue said...

Interesting! You know I love anything from MC.

I totally forgot to mention the whey. Thank you for reminding me. These are icky pictures, but there are good ideas here.

Hey Rach,
I love that drinking game and, yeah, you’re right about the bruschetta thing. Bruschetta is the grilled BREAD itself, not all the stuff you put on top of it and certainly not Ritz crackers…OR triscuits for that matter.

That’s good to know, Heather. I wish I had the stuff in the house so I could some right now!

Sue said...

PS to Rach,
"Real life" does seem a bit surreal sometimes, doesn't it?

Tracy said...

Funny, I've been glued to this storm and wondering how much is coming our way. I'm intrigued by the homemade ricotta. It looks fairly easy but the bigger question is, is it better than the stuff you get in the carton? If it is, how is it better?

Jeffrey and Ina sure do seem to enjoy each others' company. It's sweet. Maybe it's because they live apart during the week?

Sue said...

You have to try the ricotta and then tell me what you think. I think just about everything is better when homemade...well, maybe not Twinkies.

Bryon said...

What a lovely blog. I didn't see this episode but I watch on my DVR now since I got my DISH Network employee HD system. I'm not into steak but I bet the homemade ricotta tastes better than the store bought. I used ricotta for a stuffed French toast once. It was pretty good with raisins and sugar and cream cheese. It was my own recipe inspired by Giada when I was watching on my DISH.

Sue said...

Thanks, Bryon and welcome!
That French toast sounds awesome!

The DVR is kind of addictive. I just got more memory for my TIVO and I have a feeling I'm going to wish I hadn't.

Susan said...

I LOVE your blog! Especially when you point out how Ina LOVES her salt and saying "good" before almost every ingredient! I mean you say it once, we got it already! Haha! I love the interactions between Jeffrey and herself...a bit over the top, but reallt sweet and believable...I love this show!!

Sue said...

Hi Susan,

There really is so much to love about Ina, isn't there? But anyone who wouldn't cut the salt (and butter AND cream) is curazeeee!

Jeffrey is the best and the two of them together are priceless.