Barefoot Contessa with Ina Garten
Ina starts off with Lemon Chicken Breasts which she says was one of the most popular dishes at her store. She adds that she needed lots of simple recipes that were big on flavor. (I love hearing about the old days, but, oh dear, Ina sounds hoarse. Poor Contessa. She needs some tea with honey…immediately.)
For the Lemon Chicken, she pours in a quarter cup of olive oil. I’m thinking that’s A LOT of olive oil, but it wouldn’t be an Ina recipe without adjusting the amount of fat somewhat. She chops nine cloves of garlic, which she says will give you 3 tablespoons.
(If you follow my kitchen creed and remove the green stem in the middle of the garlic clove, you can throw in an extra one to make up for the waste. But, frankly, 8 gutted garlic cloves are probably more than enough.)
Ina adds the garlic to the oil and cooks it for just a minute and adds 1/3 cup of white wine. (She actually measured it.) Then she adds a tablespoon of zested lemon rind. (She calls the microplaner she’s working with a rasper, which is not out of place with the way her voice is sounding. “Rasper” always makes me think of a survivor on a desert island in great need of water.)
Ina tells us to make sure to zest the lemon before you squeeze it. That may sound a bit basic, but there HAVE been times when I forgot I needed the zest and it was annoying to have to zest a brand new lemon.
Lemon, olive oil and garlic are three ingredients that Ina works with all the time. My all-time favorite recipe of hers (and possibly my all-time favorite recipe of ANYONE’S) is basically roasted vegetables, which are mixed with orzo and then dressed with fresh lemon juice and olive oil. It’s so interesting how the same basic components can be combined in different ways to come up with so many different recipes.
Back to the Lemon Chicken, Ina adds the lemon zest (lots) and fresh lemon juice. She uses a reamer, which has become my favorite way to juice a lemon.
Ina reminds us of one of her “things”, when she talks about using dried oregano. She thinks that fresh oregano is too strong, so it's one herb she always uses dried.
I love learning about cooks' “things”, which are those tips or tricks they hold to be self-evident and even if there is no scientific proof, they still cling to them. One of my biggest “things” is my garlic clove obsession. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. (And I’m not talking about lettuce). I have many others:
I keep my onions in the fridge, so I cry less.
This is one you’ve heard from me over and over – cook any warm spices in oil for at least 2 minutes (3 is better) over low heat to get rid of any rawness and to develop the flavor, before you add the liquid to the recipe.
I always sift baking powder and baking soda through a tea strainer. I don’t bother with the flour, but the leavening can be nasty if you get lumps.
I always cut both ends off any vegetable I’m peeling or cutting. I can’t think of one exception.
I always toast nuts (usually in the microwave) when using them for just about anything.
When using seltzer in a mixed drink, I always pour it in first. It mixes better that way. (You didn’t know who you were dealing with, did you?)
Okay, back to Ina’s “thing”, she adds the dried oregano after rubbing it into her palms. Then fresh thyme goes in and then 1 teaspoon of salt. I’m thinking that’s a bit more salt than you need, but it wouldn't be an Ina recipe without adjusting the amount of salt somewhat. Start with ½ teaspoon, taste the sauce and go from there.
Ina gets her butcher to take the bones out of the chicken. Does anyone even HAVE a butcher anymore…especially for chicken? The chicken goes on top of the sauce. She says if you put the sauce on top of the chicken, it won’t brown. Good point.
You can get it ready up to that point and stick it back in the fridge, which is a great idea for getting the prep out of the way and adding even more flavor to the chicken.
But, boy, it would take a lot of self-control not to spoon at least a LITTLE of the sauce on the top. Oh! Ina says to brush the top with a bit of olive oil.
(Ina is not brushing a BIT of oil over. She’s holding the bottle of olive oil over the dish and basically pouring it onto the brush. That’s great kitchen hygiene, because the chickened-up brush isn’t touching anything but the chicken, BUT she’s kind of letting the oil flow over the chicken in a free-form way).
What’s our mantra today? I’m thinking that’s a bit more oil than you need, but it wouldn’t be an Ina recipe without adjusting the amount of fat somewhat. (That’s even more reason to go a little lighter on the amount of oil in the sauce. I would cut down the amount of oil in the sauce from 4 tablespoons, or ¼ cup, to maybe a heavy 2 tablespoons.)
Ina adds a lemon cut into 8 wedges to the pan and it goes into a 400°F oven for 30 to 40 minutes. She lets it sit for 10 minutes and “that’s about as easy as dinner gets”. She serves it with basmati rice and steamed green beans. She adds salt (too much) and pepper to the string beans and then she serves up a plate with the sauce and a lemon wedge. She loves it.
Next Ina is in the kitchen with her friend Laura Donnelly, the pastry chef at The Living Room. (That sounds homey.) They’re making a Sticky Toffee Date Cake together. They chop up 1 pound of dates and put them in a pot. Gosh, that’s a lot. They add 3½ cups of water to the dates and bring that to a boil.
Ina beats up 2 sticks of room temperature butter with ¾ cup sugar. Ina says she’s really “big on being accurate” when she’s baking. She actually explains HOW to measure in a very simple and clear way…that I didn’t even think needed explaining. Ina says to “overfill (the cup) and then level it off”. She does use a finger and not a knife, but whatever…
Oh! She tells Laura that accurately measuring stuff is her “thing”. That’s just what I was talking about…
Ina adds 4 eggs, one at a time, to the running mixer. She beats in vanilla, flour and salt. Laura adds 2 teaspoons of baking soda to the boiled dates. It foams up. The date mixture gets added to the mixer with baking powder. That’s a huge amount of baking powder – 3 1/4 tablespoons! Lets see that again. Yup, she definitely said that…three and a quarter TABLESPOONS and that IS what the recipe says.
The batter gets poured into buttered and floured pans and baked at 350°F for 30 to 40 minutes. Laura says no parchment is necessary on the bottom. I don’t see how it could hurt. Laura also says you can make the cake in 8 or 9 inch pans OR in muffin tins.
A toffee mixture, which Laura brings it from the restaurant, gets poured over the cake. But how do you make it? Laura shows us from the kitchen of the restaurant. Does that mean it takes industrial equipment to make it?
Laura melts 1/2 pound of butter in a pot, adding 8 oz. of brown sugar and ½ cup cream and vanilla. Yum! She brings it to the boil, cooks it for a minute and it’s done.
Wait a sec! Vanilla extract alert! Here’s another one of my “things”. I NEVER boil vanilla and I’d love to know why Laura is. It makes it bitter and burns off a lot of the flavor, which is what you’re paying for. The sauce does look phenomenal. She heats it up.
Ina and Laura unmold the cakes onto plates. They each have their own. They poke lots of holes into the cake and pour over the sauce. It looks amazing. Ina LOVES it. She has to go in a second time just to make sure it’s good.
Ina goes to The Red Cat restaurant to show us their Baked Fontina dish. 1 1/2 pounds of diced Italian fontina (that’s even more than the dates!) goes into a cast iron pan. Use the Italian fontina, she says. Drizzle over ¼ cup of olive oil and add 6 shaved cloves of garlic, thyme leaves, rosemary, kosher salt and pepper. Broil the fontina for 6 minutes and voila. Ina says you can serve it lots of ways. She likes it for a winter lunch with salad and bread. Jimmy Bradley, the chef, comes over to chat. He seems nice.
It’s time for Ask Ina. I don’t love this. Good! She’s jazzing it up this week. SHE’S asking the pro's questions.
First one: “What's the one thing you can do at home to cook like a pro?” Make a reservation? Oh, maybe not.
Kevin Penner, Executive Chef of 1770 House has good advice. He says to make your own stock. (Of course, that’s great advice. But whenever I do, I hoard it and never want to use it.)
Daniel Boulud’s advice is to make your own “light” mayonnaise, using a cooked egg. Poach an egg in vinegar water for two to three minutes. (The vinegar sets up the white quickly…that’s from me.) Put it in a blender with a tablespoon of mustard, a tablespoon of red wine vinegar and a cup of peanut oil and seasoning at the end. Okay, that sounds like excellent mayonnaise, but what’s light about it?
Now INA is answering our questions. Oh darn, I liked hearing from the chefs.
Kirby wants to know how to find “really good olive oil”. That’s an easy one. Taste lots of extra virgin olive oils and buy what you like. (Easy for me to say with a friend in the olive oil business.)
Let’s see what Ina says. Hey, she’s not saying anything too different from what I said. Buy 5 different oils, she says, and then taste them. She has chunks of bread, which she’s using to taste the oil. Remember when I did that? After I’d eaten almost an entire baguette, I read that you’re supposed to taste olive oil by the spoonful WITHOUT the bread.
Ina says when you get a nice round flavor with no bitterness, THAT’S your olive oil. Nope, I disagree. I believe a really great extra virgin olive oil should catch you in the back in the throat and BE a bit bitter. That tells me it’s the closest to the original olives hanging on the tree.
When you taste a supermarket, very pale colored, regular “light tasting” olive oil, THEN you get a balanced, bland taste. Who wants that? You should get a distinctive taste from your extra virgin olive oil. I could recognize mine blind-folded, (I think) and it should grab you, not caress you.
The next question is from Kim. She actually took the time to ask Ina the difference between Kosher salt and table salt. Gawd!!! Obviously, one it in a round container and one is in a rectangular box! :-)
Ina says regular table salt has chemicals in it to keep it free flowing. She says that makes it taste bitter. She finds Kosher salt “softer”. (She doesn’t say what brand she uses.) She also uses flakes of sea salt. They’re softer too, with a briny taste. The third salt she uses is fleur de sel for finishing.
At some point, I read that we should keep chemical-ed Kosher salt out of our kitchen. I checked mine. It was Morton’s and it did have “yellow prussiate of soda” in it. I replaced it with David’sand, guess what? I HATED it. The flavor was awful for some reason, so I kept using Morton’s for cooking and now I use David’s only for scrubbing pots.
Last question. How do you maintain the bright green in vegetables? IF THESE PEOPLE CAN USE COMPUTERS TO “ASK INA”, WHY CAN’T THEY JUST GOOGLE IT AND LET INA GET BACK TO HER SWEET DATE TOFFEE CAKE?
Ina (and every other kitchen practitioner in the universe) tells us to cook the veggies first in boiling salted water and then plunge them into ice water to stop the cooking. Before serving, sauté in a bit of olive oil.
That was a bit of an anticlimactic end to a pretty good episode. I hope Ina takes care of herself, though. She needs to rest her voice, so she can proclaim “How easy is that!” without straining herself.