Friday, February 8, 2013

Michael Chiarello Sweeps Ina Off Her Feet

The title was supposed to be:
Michael Chiarello Sweeps Me Ina Off Her Feet 

but blogger won't allow a strikethrough in a title.

Anyway, two worlds are colliding in this episode. We have Ina and Jeffrey still in Napa. Jeffrey is writing away and Ina is cooking AND then later Ina is visiting, cooking and DRINKING with my favorite (Food Network and otherwise) chef, Michael Chiarello.

I love that he did the reverse of what many celebrichefs do. A longtime chef, he left television after becoming a star and opened another (critically acclaimed) restaurant in Yountville called Bottega in 2009, but more about Magic Mike later. 

By the way, these Barefoot in Napa shows have their own opening sequence with all kinds of California-y shots. How great is that?

Barefoot Contessa with Ina Garten

Ina’s in the kitchen (natch) making dessert for Jeffrey – Raspberry Crumble Bars, a recipe from the old store, where she used to make them LOTS. She puts 2 sticks of room temperature butter in the Kitchen Aid. Seriously, how lucky was she to rent a house with top quality kitchen equipment? ;-)

Ina adds ¾ cup of sugar. “Be sure you fill the cups accurately. It makes a BIG difference, especially when you’re baking.” She mixes it on low, not to whip it, just to blend. She adds 1 teaspoon of “good” vanilla. She adds 2 1/3 cups of flour slowly and ½ teaspoon of Kosher salt.

She pats two thirds of the dough in a 9 inch pan and saves the rest for the crumble topping. Don’t press it down too hard, she says, just make sure you have an even layer.

I love Ina, I do, but isn’t this the kind of recipe you make with kids? (And little ones at that.) Am I wrong to think it’s easy to the point of being slightly inappropriate for someone of Ina’s status to be making? Or do we love Ina BECAUSE she can pull off a simple recipe just because it’s so darned gosh GOOD? I dunno.

I’m a little underwhelmed, but maybe it’s because my buddy Tom has me thinking this way. I mean she IS in Napa, couldn’t she have thrown some verjus over strawberries and called it dessert? Or even topped a meringue with some beautiful local fruits?

Moving on…Ina says you can also use the dough to make raspberry tarts, but she likes the crunchy topping on this recipe.

Ina spoons 10 to 12 oz. of raspberry jam on top of her patted out dough, stopping just short of the edges. If the jam bakes onto the pan, the bars are harder to get out she tells us. She likes jam with seeds, but says without is fine too. AND “Of course, you can use any jam you like”, but the Contessa likes to roll with raspberry jam.

To the remaining dough, Ina adds 2/3 cup of granola with no fruit (who has granola like that? I’m beginning to feel a little grumpy) and ¼ cup of sliced almonds. She mixes it together with “clean” hands and pinches pieces off to put on top of the jam. Some of the jam can show through, she says, just cover most of it. It bakes at 350°F for 45 minutes.

Next Ina is taking a trip down memory lane. She drives to a little gourmet-shop-looking place. She tells us that in 1978, when she opened Barefoot Contessa, there was a food revolution going on with small stores beginning to offer gourmet type salads. (Like the Silver Palate, which opened in 1977.)

Ina stands in front of Oakville Grocery, which she says was one of those. She says salads used to be thought of lettuce and vinaigrette, but places like Oakville have made salads into main courses with all kinds of interesting ingredients. You know, young folks may not know that. But the gourmetization of salads WAS pretty revolutionary. We certainly didn’t grow up with all that excitement on the salad plate.

Ina picks up some Della Fattoria bread and some asparagus (already prepared). She still likes to come back and be inspired 35 years later. I do love that Ina thinks in decades…

She and Jeffrey are having dinner in the garden and she’s making a main course salad that’s completely “FOOLPROOF”. Get it?

Ina drains 2 cans of Italian tuna in olive oil. She breaks it up slightly and adds lemon zest, garlic, fresh lemon juice, “good” olive oil, capers (drained)  Moroccan pitted black olives, which have been chopped into big pieces and chopped bought red peppers. She seasons the mixture with pepper and salt (A LOT of salt). She admits that there’s a lot, but it’s because there’s so much couscous. Ina adds her cooked couscous to the tuna mixture and lets it sit for 10 to 15 minutes.

Ina has asked some California chefs to give us their inspirations for nifty salads. Cool! 

First is Craig Stoll of Delfina. He says to keep it simple and use the best ingredients you can. He tears up freshly made mozzarella and adds quartered heirloom tomatoes in lots of colors. So pretty. He drizzles over basil oil and tops the plate with wild arugula. Last, he sprinkles over sea salt and freshly “cracked” black pepper. 

Liz Prueitt of Tartine says that today she’s “experimenting with hot and cold salads”. She sautés spinach in olive oil until just wilted. She adds some shredded Gruyere and lets it melt for a minute. She spoons that onto a plate and tops it with fresh herbs and baby greens, which have been dressed with a shallot vinaigrette. 


Danny Bowlen of Mission Chinese is making a Tiger Vegetable Salad. He makes an interesting dressing of grated radish, fresh chili and tomato and chili oil. He adds some fresh parsley, basil, baby meslun greens and mizuna rabe. (NOW I know I’m in California!) Oh, and purple spinach. But that’s not all! He also uses tarragon, fresh chives and mint leaves.

He wraps this whole mishegas (in a good way) in toasted nori leaves. Ina is impressed! Me too! 

Crushed peanuts go on the plate. The 3 salad rolls go over that. Wait, there’s more. He sprinkles over more crushed peanuts and sliced red chilis and more chives. Now THAT’S a salad.

Ina finishes up HER salad – remember, couscous with tuna - with chopped scallions, basil leaves, more lemon juice and salt. She pours it into the bowl.

I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but after seeing all those snazzy California salads, Ina’s looks a little…what’s the word?…gloppy. It’s not delicate or nuanced or that inventive. I AM sure that it tastes good, REALLY GOOD, but a few strands of pea shoots or a preserved lemon or two might have hit the spot.

The truth is after you’ve eaten in California, even for a few days, you feel let down when you come back to earth…or the East Coast. There is no way (without a fortune and/or a private plane) to duplicate the range and quality of the fresh ingredients one can find on the Left Coast, especially for salads. 

We can make do by buying the freshest and most local things we can find, but NOTHING surpasses a seasonal, local California salad put together by an imaginative chef who is working with the best of the best.  It really is paradise for fresh, fantastic ingredients. That nori-wrapped salad is the perfect poster dish for California cuisine.

I’m almost sad to have to go back to Ina cutting up those raspberry crumble bars. They would definitely be at home in Iowa or New York or Texas. But Northern California? Not so sure. She dusts the top with confectioner’s sugar. They look pretty, just not gurr-may. She carries a huge tray outside with the couscous salad, bought asparagus and raspberry bars.

She and Jeffrey clink glasses and drink some rosé. Alright, I feel a little better, because who’s cuter than Jeffrey? Just ignore everything I just said.

Hold on! “Who’s cuter than Jeffrey?” I think there’s a tie, as we watch Ina heading over to Michael Chiarello’s glorious spread in her cute little top-down white car. (Don’t ask me what kind of car it is. It could be a BMW or a Mini Cooper, for all I know.) She says Jeffrey’s working on his book, so Michael has invited her to cook with him and stay for dinner. “Who would say no to THAT?”  Not I, that’s for sure. (And that story about Jeffrey having to work? Okay, sure, Ina, I’ll buy it…if it makes you feel better. I’d say the same thing.)

Ina tells us about Michael’s restaurant, Bottega, his store and website and vineyard. Then she arrives and is invited in. “This is so gorgeous, Michael. I can’t believe you live here.” I can’t stand it. HE FEEDS HER GRAPES RIGHT OFF THE VINE. (Do you think he may take off his shirt? Sorry, I didn’t mean to say that outloud.)  

Ina says the grapes look like velvet. MC goes to gather more things from the garden, including blue rosemary. He says they use rosemary for hedges in California. Seriously, the place looks like paradise. He plucks some perfectly ripe black mission figs off the tree.

In the kitchen, Michael tells Ina she did a fine job of putting the grapes in a plastic bag and crushing them a bit. Michael finishes it up by squeezing them one by one. He’s aiming to get fresh grape juice from the grapes and says you can use any table grapes. I guess that’s good, since not many of us have a backyard vineyard.

Ina and Michael are going to make Chicken a la Vendemmia, which Michael says is a family recipe from southern Italy made at harvest time. He grey-salts the chicken breast (with bone and skin). He sprinkles over a spice mix of dried toasted fennel, toasted coriander and white pepper. Michael says they’re toasted together so they don’t get soapy. I wish I knew what that means. Ina says the toasting really brings out the flavor. “Michael and I are big on flavor.” “We love flavor,” he says. Seriously how can she keep her hands off him? 

He smiles. What a smile!

MC says he likes this dish because while the chicken is cooking, he can get the rest of it together. Ina says that works for her. Michael carries the chicken over to another part of the stunning kitchen. 

One of his tricks is to preheat his casserole dish. MC puts it over the heat and adds some extra virgin olive oil. 

Yay! I’ve told you that my Spanish olive oil suppliers told me long ago that they use extra virgin olive oil for everything, including frying, so I do too. And  I’m happy to see Michael doing the same thing.

MC says he always adds the chicken “presentation side” down first. Ina agrees. Michael says the chicken seems to cook a little cleaner”. I don’t know what that means. Does it mean it sticks less? Ina says she’s always happy to learn that she’s been doing the right thing. 

He says after he adds the chicken, he turns the heat up to high, so the pan doesn’t cool down. Smart. THEN he says, “IT gives US time to…”

OMG. WHAT is he going to say? I would be faint at this point. Ina looks (longingly?) into his eyes. I’m holding my breath… 

“It gives us time to…” C’mon say it! “…To have a little glass of
Napa Valley’s finest.” Oh! Okay, that’s cool too.

Ina murmurs her ascent in a deep husky voice, gazing into his (sapphire blue) eyes. Ina says “I like California a lot.”

Michael pours the wine and looks right at her as he clinks glasses and says “Salute”.  

I think he follows that with “Welcome to my home,”, but he could have said, “The cable’s out.” and I would have swooned.

He smiles broadly as Ina tells us that this is Michael’s own wine from the Chiarello Vineyard.

He turns over the chicken after browning it well and puts it into a 400°F. oven. Ina says she loves to cook like that. He calls the oven his “silent sous chef”. Ina tells us he finishes the dish with “a little help from me” “A VERY little help from me.”  Harhar.

Michael takes the chicken from the oven and lets it rest, which they both agree is super important. He adds some sliced shallots to the pan and Ina sprinkles in some rosemary. Again, he says he cooks it first so it doesn’t get soapy. No clue.

Michael adds the homemade grape juice to the pan. Can you imagine that? Picking grapes from your back yard, squeezing the juice and using it a mere hour from when it was still on the vine? Amazing. He adds a bit of chicken broth and the fresh figs. Ina says she loves roasting figs and MC says he loves them cool on the inside and just warmed through on the outside. (Funny. I like my hot chefs just the opposite.)

Ina says it all looks “crazy good”.  He plates with his immaculate (-ly groomed) hands onto two plates. (I don’t really need to see his wedding ring.)  A beautiful spray of fresh grapes goes on the plates along with the chicken, figs and sauce. He adds some fresh rosemary too and a bit of arugula. (I think that’s the law in California.)

They eat at the kitchen butcher block counter. Ina loves the sweet and savory flavor of the dish. Michael tells her to follow a bite of chicken with a piece of the fig, cool in the middle, just warmed through. (Feed me, chef!) She's impressed by the fennel and the figs. “It’s autumn in your mouth,” suggests Michael. “Wow, this really is the good life," coos Ina. They’re not kidding around, as she sips from her enormous wine glass.

Ina stays as the scene ends. I don’t blame her...


The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Your salad talk reminds me of Tamar Adler who said, "Salad is anything cut up small, put on a plate or bowl, and dressed with salt, fat, and acid." Or something to that effect.

I guess it was only a matter of time that these two would do a show together since I've often heard he is the west coast version of Ina. Still wish he's wear a helmet...

You are getting me excited for my not-yet-booked trip to San Francisco this year. Although our goal for this trip is Yosemite, I'm looking forward to all that great left coast food and wine.

Sue said...

Hey Rach,
I like that quote.

MC's Food Network show DID have "EASY" in the title, but I never thought of the two of them as particularly similar. He's much slicker (in a totally good way!) than Ina. (But WHY don't people wear helmets? Horses are like sports cars, aren't they?)

Lucky girl to go to Yosemite. I read about this really cool place INSIDE A GAS STATION!!!

People love it!

But it looks like it's 2 hours from Yosemite, so I'm not sure I get that, but if you're in the neighborhood...

Anonymous said...

I miss having MC on television. He's extremely charming in person, or at least he was when Cy and I met him, so I can see Ina swooning over him (Cy and I held back, but we were swooning inside). And, unlike Ina, he (or someone who works for him) actually responded to a request to reprint one of his recipes on my blog. (It was actually the recipe he made for Ina, too).

Sue said...

Hey Tom,
You are soooo lucky to have breathed the same air as MC. I'm really jealous.

I still don't know why Ina couldn't have picked up the phone and given you the thumbs up. >:-o

cynthia said...

Wow, reading your blog was like reading really, really classy porn . . . or is that an oxymoron? My Jack is in total lust with Ina, and I am in even more total lust with the adorable Michael (but I would take Jeffrey in a pinch though!) The suggestion that the two of them (Ina and Michael) might suddenly chuck their wine glasses, drop to the dirt and start tearing each other's clothing off just about finished me off! Wow . . . can you ever WRITE great SH**!

Sue said...

Welcome Cynthia!
And thank you!!! (I think!)

I understand having a crush on Ina. It's that silky black hair.

I miss Michael being on the Food Network regularly, so when I do see him, I go a bit wild. But it sounds like you understand completely. Let's hope he shows up again soon.