Monday, March 12, 2012

Easy Brunch, Cheap Runners And An Awesome Napkin Trick Plus Egg Issues

Barefoot Contessa with Ina Garten

·         Apricot Butter
·         Roasted Hazelnut Granola
·         Fruit Platter

I’m here! I’m here! I had a few things to attend to, but they’re out of the way, so here I am. The Barefoot Contessa has been wonderful lately, even if we have to agree that what she’s been doing isn’t exactly brain surgery. But as long as we buy the premise of her signature phrase, Ina should make any home cook happy.

This week, Ina is doing an article about the perfect brunch, so, guess what? She's going to THROW the perfect brunch to test it all out. She’s bringing in some heavyweights to help – her buddy, Miguel Flores-Vianna, to do the table settings and take the pictures and Michael Grim to do the flowers. I DO love Ina’s bouncy intro music. It matches the verve of her shiny pageboy.

Ina says she loves entertaining during the day – people come when they have lots of energy and then afterwards, they go on about their day. Well, that probably depends on the strength of the cocktails. Ina’s making a roasted hazelnut granola. It would take a super-duper recipe to make me not serve my own, but let’s see what makes hers special.

Ina chops lots of roasted hazelnuts and cashews into big pieces. She adds 1 cup of old fashioned oatmeal and some slivered almonds. This is not sounding too different from mine. Oh, wait, next she adds some coconut. That’s fine, but there are plenty of folks who don’t like coconut, so I never put it in (and I’m happy to avoid those calories, actually). Then she adds 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil. I know most granolas have that, but I avoid it like the plague. If you don’t HAVE to add it, then why do it?  Ina measures the honey AFTER she’s measured the oil, so it comes out neatly. (That’s still not reason enough to add oil.) She stirs it with a big spoon.

Next Michael is doing the flowers, using blue and white tablecloths that Ina has provided. He decides on blue muscari. Pretty, although I don’t know a blue muscari from a blue muskrat, but they look nice. Michael likes that they’re “blue and low” and “not so formal, which is perfect for brunch”.

Miguel is setting the table. He’s using the white tablecloth as the base and the blue one as a runner down the middle of the table. THAT is a superb idea.
THEN he’s putting woven place mats on top of the tablecloths. Really? I guess he’s aiming for different layers of crapola accoutrements on the table. He appreciates that they’re “nice and chunky”, (the very reason I DON’T like them), and that they contrast with the soft linen tablecloths. I guess that makes sense.

Strangely, Michael is threatening to use an egg crate for a vase. Really? Meanwhile Miguel is using oversized Delft blue teacups as cereal bowls. He says Ina likes different things used in place of the usual.

Back to Ina, she spreads out the granola on a baking sheet and cooks it at 350°F. for 20 minutes, stirring it a few times. Ina is so happy that Miguel will be taking pictures of the table setting. Is Ina ever NOT happy? I love her. Miguel places differently sized pitchers on the table for juice and adds modern glasses for “contrast” with the oversized antique teacups.

Out of the oven comes the granola. Ina tosses it one more time.

Next up is a fruit platter. I love Ina, but is this really worth our time to watch? Ina tells us to test the ripeness of a pineapple by smell. If you pluck a leaf from the middle of a pineapple and it comes out easily, that may mean that it’s actually rotten. Hmm, I usually do both.

I think I was right. We could have skipped this. On top of fig leaves go the quartered pineapple, which she cuts right on the plate to avoid moving the juicy pieces. Ina places all the fruit in blocks, which any Ina-lover knows is her philosophy for many food items – crudités, antipasti, etc. She likes the fruit in big pieces, so it’s not like fruit salad. Okay, that was a worthwhile observation.

Ina spills blueberries over the top and then adds strawberries and raspberries in blocks. I take it back, it does look really good and it was worth a moment of our time. It looks Barefoot Contessa lavish.

OMG! Next Ina shows us something that will change my bread-basket-lining forever! I’m not kidding. I DO line baskets with napkins for baked goods, but I’ve never taken it to the level that Ina does. 

She places the napkin in the basket and folds it down the center to make a pleat, so the napkin fits nicely in the basket. She turns it 90 degrees and does the same thing again, so she’s basically making a smaller square out of a larger napkin, which results in the napkin not flopping over the edges. She places these big fat croissants in the basket and the edges of the pleated napkin perk up and it looks very special. (I think SHE does the pleating to make the edges stand up, but I like the extra bonus that it makes the napkin fit whatever size basket you’re using.) How easy is that and HOW did she think of that?

My mind is spinning with all kinds of basket-lining possibilities. I could use a RECTANGULAR pretty dishtowel and only make one pleat to get it into a square. I could use even a tiny basket and be able to line it attractively with any sized napkin. How did I manage this long without this information? 

Next, Ina tells us how to make apricot butter for the croissants. She beats a stick of room temperature butter (remember that Ina often leaves her butter out overnight – I can never bring myself to do that) with ½ cup of “good” apricot preserves and an 1/8 teaspoon of kosher salt. (I would kill the salt, although Ina says it DOES make a difference.) She tells us you can use the same recipe to make raspberry butter, honey or marmalade butter. That sounds SOOO good.

Next we find out what Michael is doing with the eggs in his flower arranging. He’s not using the egg CRATE, he’s using that actual EGGS. Michael says to cut the tops off the eggs and fill them with water and put a small bunch of the muscari inside. I’m guessing he means to get rid of the actual egg first. That would be a great idea if you were making something that used a bunch of beaten eggs. I like that. He places each flower-filled eggshell in a little egg cup. Cute.

Ina moves on to the blintzes. She’s making them differently, though, in one pan that can be cut up. That means she doesn't have to fry separate blintzes. (How easy is that?) She mixes milk, sour cream, melted butter, vanilla, eggs, flour, sugar and baking powder in the food processor. She pours half the batter (made in advance is fine) in the bottom of a 9 by 13 pan. She bakes it at 350°F for 10 minutes until just set. That’s stage one. (Ina pours the batter in a big measuring pitcher, to divide up the batter more accurately.)

Next Ina whips up the filling. She mixes 24 oz. of ricotta cheese (why do I think it’s whole milk?), 8 oz. mascarpone (the container is a little over, but she says it’s fine to add the whole thing…natch), 2 extra large eggs, 1/3 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon lemon zest, fresh lemon juice, “good” vanilla and salt. This sounds awesome, even if I would leave out the salt. BUT here we go with the eggs again when Ina insists on using extra large eggs.* For only two extra large eggs, just fuhgeddaboudit and use 2 large eggs.

Miguel places a thermos of coffee, plus milk and sugar on the table. He’s happy that Ina is serving apricot butter, because, by coincidence, he's chosen apricot napkins.

Michael has the flowers ready and he’s excited to see what’s for brunch.

Ina finishes the blintzes by pouring the ricotta filling over the bottom layer and spreading it out evenly. Then she pours the remaining batter on top without mixing it into the cheese layer. She pours it over a spoon to accomplish that. (I remember that trick for Irish coffee from many decades ago.) She bakes it for 35 or 40 minutes at 350°F. 

The last thing to be done is the blueberry sauce. Into a pan goes freshly squeezed orange juice, sugar and cornstarch. Ina mixes that together and brings it to a boil. When it’s slightly thickened, she adds blueberries and simmers it for 4 to 5 minutes. Lemon zest and juice go in and it’s done. Ina pours it into a pitcher. She cuts the blintzes into EIGHT squares. Even she admits that they are BIG squares, but it IS the main course, she says.

The table is finished, the food is brought out. It looks GORGEOUS. Ina is thrilled. Miguel takes the pictures and then they chow down. They giggle (a lot) and decide they’ll switch roles for the next meal they produce together.

As usual, Ina has produced a lovely, EASY to do meal that would impress anyone, with a couple of great tips thrown in for good measure.

* The most important part of that post as far as egg sizes go is this:
If the recipe calls for 4 extra-large eggs, you can 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 Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Good thing she has friends in the decorating business because that table setting sounded like more work than the brunch itself. Whoa. That almost takes it to Sandra Lee territory! :-D

That oil in the granola is a little weird. I'm not a fan of vegetable oil to begin with (unless I need it for the deep fryer). Granola already has enough calories!

Sue said...

Hey Rach,
That is a good point. I guess that's why Ina needed TWO people to do the table settings and the flowers. When people come to MY house, they're lucky if I don't make them get their own silverware out of the dishwasher. I guess that would be a no-no for Ina.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure that Ina has several sets of silverware, and probably more than one dishwasher too.

I didn't see either of the Mikes (Miguel or Michael) do anything Ina hasn't really done herself before, so I suspect the whole exercise was to promote her friends' businesses. Do you think I can get her to plug my wine?

Sue said...


She probably has more dishwashers than most people have dishes!

Hmm, Ina promoting wine? I think it would work...and how!!! You just have to get your wine in one of her fancy Hampton shops. I think you should scope it out over a glamorous weekend in the Hamptons.

Abandoned By Wolves said...

That's TBC - zen master (mistress) of entertaining and dinner parties. It's interesting how although her setups and situations are at least as contrived as TPW, Ina's presentations always ring true - possibly because Ina never pretended to be living an authentic "back to the roots" life in the first place.

"I'm Ina Garter, I'm a professional caterer and food personality, I'm using my contacts and cohorts to make things look nice and everyone will have a nicely staged and photographerd good time". Works for me.

Sue said...

I couldn't agree more. Somehow when folks arrive at Ina's house, you just feel as if they're really her friends arriving for brunch and doing the flowers and table settings. It totally works for me too.

Sheila said...

I want to know more about this Granola... Could you use sunflower seeds in place of the nuts?

Sue said...

Of course. Go for it!