Friday, February 17, 2012

Ina Mixes Homemade With Store-Bought Plus How To Cut Hydrangea Stems AND I Can Read Her Mind

Barefoot Contessa with Ina Garten

Rehearsal Dinner

Ooh, goodie, the Contessa is throwing a wedding in her barn!!! What fun! Oh, wait, it’s just a rehearsal dinner, but that’s okay too. What a wonderful spot for either one and with Ina as the host, you know it will be good (and the cocktails will be really strong).

I like that Ina UNAPOLOGETICALLY serves store-bought stuff along with homemade things. She schuzzes things up and make them LOOK homemade. Plus let’s not forget where she’s getting her store-bought items. She’s not exactly buying an Entenmann's coffee cake and pouring a powdered sugar glaze over it, (although that WOULD be good). She’s getting things from Barefoot Contessa-like shops, with chefs that anyone would be happy with.

The dinner is for her friend Barbara Libath’s son, Jason. (Certainly any groom would be more alluring if you knew that mom’s best friend was the Contessa.) Think how fun she would be at the wedding. Oh, Barbara is her assistant, but still.

Barbara was freaking out and Ina said,” Deep breath. We’re going to do this together. You’re going to go out and buy some wonderful things in town and you and I will make some delicious things to go with it.”

Ina’s making tarragon potato salad to serve at the buffet. She’s cooked her potatoes and she’s using a cake tester to see if they’re done. I use a skewer. (Remember when Anne said to ONLY use a fork? I have to admit I tried it and I didn’t see a difference, so I’m back to my (Parisian-acquired) skewers. I also love Ina’s way of steaming the potatoes for a bit. You drain them and then cover then with a dishtowel (or I use the actual pot).

The potatoes sit for a few minutes in the steam and “they end up perfectly cooked”. I never DON’T do that now.

For the dressing, Ina mixes 1 cup of Hellmann’s with 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. ("It gives it an edge.”) She adds tarragon vinegar (or any white wine vinegar, thank goodness – I detest tarragon), 2 teaspoons of salt (I always halve or quarter the salt to start with) and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Later, she’ll add fresh tarragon (does she have to?), dill, red onions and scallions. Ina says they have to do a tasting to make sure everything’s good and goes together.

Meanwhile Barbara looks like she’ll be spending her retirement savings at The Seafood Shop. Oh, she’s not ordering that much. She’s only getting 3 lbs. of cooked shrimp. Wait, that’s not all! She’s also ordered a dozen tuna skewers and 2 quarts of clam chowder. Do you think it’s possible that all of that is for just the TWO of them – Barbara and Ina - to taste? It’s not enough for the actual rehearsal dinner, but it’s way too much for a tasting for TWO people. I’m confused. Oh my! There’s also lobster salad (2 lbs.), which is definitely not enough for the actual dinner.

Barbara confirms (to Colin, the fish guy) that this is for a “taste testing” and that the actual dinner is for 70 people. I’m concerned about 2 people eating that much at one seating. Maybe it’s the day before and she’ll be using the leftovers at the party. But that’s not really a good plan either. Very odd.

Ina is peeling the Yukon gold potatoes and says she likes to dress the potatoes when they’re warm. Why oh why doesn’t she peel and cut up the potatoes BEFORE cooking then? I suppose they hold their shape better this way.

Ina says she and Barbara looked at all the good things they could buy locally and that she likes to pair high-end things with simpler dishes, like lobster salad with coleslaw. Everything is going to be served at room temperature, except maybe soup, which makes thing easier. 

Ina likes having buffet parties, because they keep people engaged and they’re more fun, she thinks. (Not sure if I agree, but for 70 people at home, I think that’s the ONLY choice.)

Ina cuts the cooked potatoes in thick slices. She adds enough dressing to moisten them and says not to make the slices too small to start with, because they break up a bit. She adds chopped scallions with herbs and chopped red onions. She likes the different ingredients to give the dish more depth of flavor. At the end, Ina adds the second half of the dressing. She lets the potato salad sit for 30 minutes. I really do think that all the food Barbara bought is just for the two of them to taste.

Before they get to the tasting, Ina is making a bleu cheese dip with Gorgonzola, shallots and garlic, lemon juice and Greek yogurt. And some mayo. She adds it all to the food processor with some Tabasco. (I would have processed the shallots and the garlic first and then the bleu cheese and then stirred THAT into the yogurt and mayo. Sometimes yogurt and mayo can get too runny in the processor.) She’s also adding some chives. Luckily, it doesn’t look too thin. It goes into the fridge.

Barbara’s picking up some barbecue from Townline BBQ. I’m not kidding that this is TONS of food. Barbara arrives and Ina says it’s time to taste. (I wanna see this.)

They start the tasting:
First up is the shrimp with cocktail sauce (bought)
Homemade bleu cheese dip with chips

Ina really likes those two together. (WHAT is going to happen to all that food?) She also wants to add guacamole to the mix. I think she’s making that.

Next they taste the soup from a HUGE pot on the stove. It’s possible I saw them double dip their spoons. Why is it so hard to just get another spoon?

They like the brisket and beans and Ina says Barbara should have a big platter of brisket with rolls nearby, so if folks want a sandwich they can have one.

Next up are tuna skewers with wasabi sauce. I would never have thought to have that. It’s a good idea. But isn’t BUYING all this going to be SO expensive? The barbecued brisket is so easy to make, but, I guess NOTHING is easy to make for 70 people…although Ina’s kitchen is certainly equipped to handle to the cooking.

Last they taste the lobster rolls. If I were at this party, I would make straight for the lobster rolls, while people were wasting their time with cocktail sauce and shrimp. Not that shrimp is bad, but lobsters rolls are AWESOME!!! Ina says they’re a classic East Hampton thing. I think they’re a Northeast thing and I love them.

So they didn't taste anywhere near ALL the food that Barbara bought for the tasting. It's a mystery of what happened to it all. 

Ina wants to add one more salad – a vegetable coleslaw. She likes to shred the vegetables in the food processor, placing the vegetables sideways in the larger feed tube to get the longest shreds. (A mandolin would work great here too, as long as you have sometime standing by to take you to the emergency room.)

Ina uses white and red cabbage and then shreds carrots with the grating blade. She’s making a mayo dressing. But she’s already using mayo with the potatoes. I might think about a vinaigrette option for one of them.

The coleslaw dressing is mayo, Dijon (WAIT, LET ME GUESS – she’s going to say apple cider vinegar…let’s see…). She continues with sugar AND 2 tablespoons “CIDER VINEGAR”!

GO ME!!! I must be psychotic psychic. Celery seed and celery salt also go in with some salt and pepper.

Is it just me, but why couldn’t you add actual celery, which would add a great crunch? You’d get the fresh taste of celery, instead of the slightly stale taste of the celery seed and celery salt. (I admit that could be because I’ve had the same jars of both of those things in my cupboard for over 2 decades!!!) Actually, CARAWAY seeds would be really good, too. Also, I need a raisin or two in my coleslaw.

Next Ina and Barbara are doing the table settings. I still want to know what’s happening to all that tasting food. Ina is using a “wheat colored” cloth and she puts a long line of hydrangeas down the middle.

How come Ina hasn’t come up with a signature cocktail for the couple? Champagne is fine, of course, but a specialty martini always adds a fun touch. Barbara could be snipping off the stems of the flowers, while she gets busy with that. Ina shows Barbara how to snip the hydrangeas (at an angle and then make one tiny cut up the middle of the stem to encourage it to drink more water). Ina also likes to leave on as many leaves as possible so it looks as if you’re looking at a garden. Cool.

Ina also says to sit at the table and make sure the flowers are low enough so you can see the person across the table. Smart.  Next she adds two candles between each vase of flowers. Another table will be done with blue hydrangeas and I suppose a blue cloth.

Ina asks Barbara to get “someone” (i.e an entire Food Network crew) to do a video of the dinner for her, so she’ll be able to see how it went. I think this means she’s missing the wedding too. :-(  

We get to see the video of the dinner at the same time as Ina watches it. We see Barbara setting the blue table outside. Beautiful. She’s got friends and family arranging all the food in the kitchen. Ina likes that it’s all laid out family style. She says it breaks the ice and that “life’s too short to spend a lot of time circulating with party trays.” How about hiring some high school kids to (keep their hands out of the food and) walk around with trays?

Ina tells us how they made the guacamole. She puts four ripe Haas avocados, lime juice, garlic, red onion, salt and pepper in a large bowl and slices through it with a knife to break up the avocado. She adds a seeded and chopped tomato. How easy is that?

The food looks really good all set up in the kitchen. The party goes on till after dark. Then we see some wedding pictures. Ina toasts Jason and Ashley and their happy life together.  If even a tiny bit of Jeffrey and Ina’s long-lasting union* rubs off on them, the young couple should be fine.


Sheila said...

Well, I'm never not going to ever do it too... Is that right???? The potato steaming thing...

Sue said...

CORRECT!!! You better NOT never do it! You won't regret it.

Abandoned By Wolves said...

I will have to try the potato tactic, though I never make potato salad.

As always, your recaps of the shows seem inevitably better (and more educational) than the episodes themselves.(That's probably what you had in mind when your started doing them.) If we all just read your recaps instead of watching FN, we could be undermining the very institution we are supporting...or something...

Sue said...

Hiya James,
The potato thing works anytime you're boiling potatoes for any purpose. Potato salad can be soooo good and it's nice that it can be served at room temperature (unmayo-ed ones, that is).

And, James, THAT is exactly why I started blogging. I got tired of talking to myself during all these shows!