Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Ina Goes West

Barefoot Contessa with Ina Garten

The episode starts with Ina walking through a gorgeous outdoor area, but, wait, it doesn’t look like her house. Oh, it’s not! She and Jeffrey have rented a house in Napa. HE'LL be working on a book (a novel about the lovable husband of a peripatetic foodie in Paris, perhaps?) and SHE'LL be having a food adventure. Why do I think she may include a few swigs of wine or a cocktail or two...or more? It’s “Barefoot Contessa California style.”

Ina and Jeffrey are strolling in the Farmer’s Market in St. Helena. She says she doesn’t normally like to take Jeffrey to markets (she DOESN’T?), but on vacation they like to explore them together. They are so cute walking with their arms around each other.

They admire the many varieties of grapes and tomatoes. There are beautiful peppers too. Ina buys a few containers of cherry tomatoes, basil and lemons. The farmer lady tells her they grow it all themselves and they’re certified organic. It was $13. I think that’s kind of reasonable. Of course, you’d have to factor in the airfare.

Jeffrey wants to know what she’s going to make. Ina says she wanted to see what was at the market and she’ll make him lunch from that. His arm around her gets even tighter in anticipation of a wonderful meal. They’re too sweet.

Back at the house (which is more like a palace), Ina cuts really crusty, delicious looking French bread into diagonal slices. She brushes them with olive oil and puts them in the oven for 6 to 8 minutes. She toasts pine nuts and cuts the luscious cherry tomatoes in half.

Ina says she loves going to markets and seeing what’s fresh. She’s going to make tomato crostini with whipped feta. How interesting that that recipe just came to her while she was strolling around the market. (Let’s not mention that the recipe is in her latest, huge selling cookbook -Barefoot Contessa Foolproof. Never mind that.)

Ina puts 6 oz. of feta and 2 oz. of cream cheese in the food processor and purées it. She says to make sure they’re at room temperature. She adds 1/3 cup of olive oil and 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice and some salt and pepper. She uses a reamer and a little strainer to get the juice, “There’s no substitute for fresh lemon.”

(I wonder if, when she was looking for houses to rent, one of the requirements was that it had to be “equipped with Barefoot Contessa-like kitchen equipment”. What if they had had all Rachael Ray bright orange, plastic-handled stuff? Would she have had to run out to Sur La Table to bring in the classier stuff?)

Ina takes the pieces of bread out of the oven. They looks wonderfully crisp, which is exactly what I HATE about crostini. They are impossible to eat as they cut into your gums. I would put the bread in a toaster oven on the tray thingie and toast it. The bottom would still be soft and the top would be nicely browned.

For the tomato topping, she mixes together 2 tablespoons of (beautifully) minced shallots, minced garlic (I would remove the center stalk) and 2 tablespoons of GOOD red wine vinegar. She lets that sit for 5 minutes so the shallots can absorb the vinegar. (That is SO important and makes a huge difference. Pickled shallots are so wonderful to garnish soups, stews, chilies, lots of things…I usually use white wine vinegar, but, for this recipe, red wine vinegar would be perfect.).

Next Ina adds a 1/3 cup of GOOD olive oil, salt and pepper to the pickled shallots. She pours that over 2 pounds of halved cherry tomatoes and sets that aside for 10 minutes. She spreads the whipped feta on the toast and tops it with the tomatoes and “a few” pine nuts. Lastly, she tops them with julienned basil leaves.

Ina says she made too many crostini, but likes to have them around for soup and dips. (Isn’t she on vacation?) Ina brings a beautiful plate of crostini to Jeffrey while he’s hard at work on his book. (I still don’t like the crunchiness of the crostini and I would be afraid of all that juicy topping stuff falling on to the computer…)

Ina tells us, “If you happen to live in Napa, there are so many things to be grateful for…not the least of which is Thomas Keller who’s got to be one of the most admired chefs in America.” OMG. She’s not actually cooking with Thomas Keller, is she? 

THAT would be worth the price of admission. (A basic cable bill.) She shows us his French Laundry restaurant and one called Ad Hoc in Yountville Ina tells us that Ad Hoc has a “lunch service” called Addendum three times a week. OH! So no cooking with the master, but Ina is going to pick up take out Buttermilk Fried Chicken from Addendum. AND Chef Dave Cruz is going to show us how to make it in a video. 

Brining it overnight is one of the secrets as to why it's so good. (Brining seems to be the secret to many successful dishes. I feel as if it could solve other problems too. Maybe we could get world peace, or at least gun control, if more folks brined their chicken.)

Chef Cruz brings to a boil A LOT of stuff for the brine:
1 gallon water
1 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons honey
12 bay leaves
1 head of garlic, halved
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
About 1/2 ounce (1 large bunch) thyme sprigs
About 2 ounces (1 large bunch) flat leafed parsley sprigs
5 lemons, halved

He cools it and puts in 2 chickens, which have been cut up into 8 pieces each. (That’s a big container of brine. Couldn’t he have done double the chickens?)

Then the chicken gets dipped in flour, salt, pepper, paprika, cayenne, onion and garlic powders. (I hate those last two ingredients, except when frying at high temperature.)  Next, the chicken pieces go in buttermilk and then BACK in the flour. That’s interesting. I have never redipped anything back in the original flour. Most recipes have the chicken dipped in buttermilk (or marinated if you’re not brining it) and then dipped in flour. This is an intriguing way to do it.

The video continues. The chicken pieces are fried at 340°F in a deep pot of peanut oil. (The recipe says 10 cups.) The chef separates the pieces as they fry and, after 6 minutes, he takes them out. Wow, that looks amazing.

Back at the take out window, the chef himself brings out Ina’s chicken. She drives back to the house and brings Jeffrey a tray of Thomas Keller’s fried chicken. He’s delighted. She says, Isn’t this the best fried chicken you’ve ever had?” “Next to the one you make,” her honey replies. “That’s the right answer,” Ina says. How cute are they?

Next Ina is planning a secret cocktail party on the patio, just for the two of them. She’s hired Jon Gasperini, a mixologist, to teach them how to make some fancy cocktails.

Jon brings his own (very attractive) bar. He has a catering company called Rye on the Road, where he brings the cocktail party to you. Guess who says, “How great is that?”

Ina goes into the kitchen to make some snacks for them to have with their drinks. She says to us, you know how when you rent a house you never know how good it’s going to be? Well, she’s thrilled with this one. She loves the garden, which happens to include a fig tree. She takes one off the tree and also finds some fresh thyme. She admires the rest of their herb garden. “It’s clear the owners love to cook. I’m really making myself at home here, aren’t I?”

(What would YOU do if you found out the Barefoot Contessa was renting your house? Wouldn’t you offer her a free night if she would just invite you to dinner…or lunch…or even a quick snack?)

Ina puts 1 lb. Marcona almonds (she loves them) on a sheet pan with 2 teaspoons of oil, 1 teaspoon of kosher salt and 2 tablespoons of fresh thyme leaves. She tosses that all together and roasts them at 350°F for 10 to 15 minutes, turning them every 5 minutes. When she takes them out of the oven, she sprinkles over some really coarse fleur de sel.

Ina loves this recipe with thyme, but says you can use rosemary too. She says to store them sealed in a container, if you make them in advance.

While Jon is setting up his amazing bar, Ina goes to find Jeffrey and unchain him from his desk. She says he’s going to be really surprised. She guides him out onto the patio and introduces him to Jon.

They start with a Napa Spritz. Ina makes her own alongside Jon. They start with organic lavender, organic Meyer lemons and a local vermouth AND local gin. (My local gin is called Tanqueray.) They put in lots of crushed ice and shake, shake, shake the drink and then strain it into a glass. Jon puts ice SPEARS in and tops it off with seltzer and fresh lavender. He adds a paper striped straw and hands it to Jeffrey. Jeffrey says it’s dangerous, because it goes down too easily. (I’m glad he didn’t smell the lavender and call it an old lady drink.)

Jeffrey’s up next. He peels 4 to 5 basil leaves and claps them.(?) Jon adds simple syrup, lime juice and they muddle that together to pummel the herbs to release the oils. Then he adds 1½ ounces of gin and ice. “There’s a time limit on cocktails once you add ice,” says Jon. (That makes sense.) They shake their cocktail shakers and strain the gimlets into glasses. They garnish each with a basil leaf that’s been clapped. (There we go again.)

Ina ends with a toast to Jon. Jeffrey adds, “And to California.”  The Contessa coos, “HOW FABULOUS! We love it here.” How could she not? She’s in paradise with potent cocktails and with darling Jeffrey by her side. (Bartender Jon is pretty cute too.)


The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

I am still stuck on the concept of Ina Garten in Rachael Ray's tacky orange kitchen. This of course makes me think of how funny it would be to switch up the studios for all of the shows. Put Ina in Guy's kitchen with the racing stripe fridge. Put Giada of the sleek streamlined kitchen into Paula's expansive southern home.

Isn't Jeffrey's specialty foreign policy. I remember during one boring daylong meeting at my old, our AP sales guy based his talk on a quote Jeffrey made regarding China. I'd be afraid his book might be a tad on the dry side...

I wish I could get such great prices at my local farmer's market!

Sue said...

Hi Rach,
I wonder if Ina and RR have ever been in the same room together. And Ina in Guy's kitchen?!! THAT would be funny.

I think you might be right about Jeffrey's book. Can you imagine the difference in their two book parties? Which one would you rather go to?

I thought those veggies were reasonably priced too.

Sheila said...

I was excited to see Thomas Keller's books featured! I was given both those books for Christmas!

Go Ina!

Sue said...

Ohh, that's a nice present, Sheila. What have you made so far? Is that where you got your wheat thins and pepper jelly recipe?

Anonymous said...

I don't think Ina needs to worry about being stuck with an inadequate kitchen anywhere. If she were stuck in RR's orange land, she would simply pick up the phone and summon a caravan of trucks from Viking, Sur la Table, and Nielsen-Massey (so she never runs out of "good" vanilla).

I had to take a Food Network hiatus for nearly a month because of cable problems at the gym (the only place I watch FN). Coming back to it now gives me mixed feelings about Ina's show. She's still a good cook and host, but simply choosing a new locale hasn't freshened up what was starting to get a little stale (to me). I feel like she's kind of phoning it in these days. Ingredients out of range (geographically and price) for many people? Check. Guest cooks making things that require far too much preparation? Check. (Notice we never get a "how easy is that?" with the guest cooks?) Passing off already printed recipes as spontaneous creations? Check.

Ina still has a lot to contribute. I'd love to see her do a series on running a food business, or some serious advice on entertaining (not just the scripted "Ask Ina" segments). Seeing how Ina "lives" when she travels just doesn't do it for me. She used to be able to pull off a more common touch despite living in the Hamptons, but as the years go on she just can't do it anymore. I'll keep watching, but definitely not as enthusiastically as I used to.

Sue said...

Hi Tom,
You know I love Ina, but I don't disagree with anything you said (mostly). This new season IS about her new cookbook, so wandering around a Napa market and making something as if she had just thought of it is to be expected.

And, you know, Ina-ites LOVE Ina's cookbooks. They are always best sellers, and I know lots of people who always look to Ina especially for their entertaining menus. The recipes are good and always work. (I won't say "Foolproof", but they are.) AND, c’mon, Tom, who doesn’t LOVE Ina's shiny hair and her joie de vivre??! It’s infectious.

Sue said...

PS Tom,
That was funny about trucks coming to Ina's rescue with more "good" vanilla.

Anonymous said...

I like Ina's cookbooks too (although I haven't looked at "How Easy Is That" or "Foolproof" because I don't like either title.) But the idea that these recipes are just thrown together out of Ina's super-creative mind is ridiculous. As we know, the process of developing even the simplest of recipes is a lot more complicated than walking through the farmers' markets and casually throwing things together. I'm sure every one of those recipes was tested six ways to Sunday and tweaked about a hundred times. It's because she has gone to that kind of effort that people buying the books can be assured they'll come out right (if a little bit salty and with maybe too much fat in them, but that's Ina for you.)