Sunday, April 7, 2013

Ina Goes Local

It's been too long. We’ve been away. I promise that my next post will be about Palm Springs, but for now, here’s a preview:

Today, though, Ina is saluting some of her local food producers.

The Barefoot Contessa with Ina Garten

Ohh, Ina tells us she is writing a blog today on “Local Food Heroes”.

Hold on just a sec! I’ve heard other people use that expression too and I find it a bit weird. Isn’t she actually writing a blog POST, not an actual BLOG. Is that picky of me? It’s just that I imagine that if someone is writing a blog, that means he or she is actually CREATING a blog. Right? Anyhoo, Ina can say just about anything she pleases, but I just had to get that out of the way.

Ina is highlighting local food products and she starts with the Amagansett Sea Salt Co. She loves sweet and salty together and so she decides to make some salted caramel brownies. 

Even though I’ve never liked salt with sweet things, I do LOVE sweet elements in savory dishes. One would think if you liked one, you’d like the other. Not true, though. I don’t love herb-infused or chilied chocolate, for example. But putting sweet with savory – raisins with sautéed broccoli rabe, prunes in a beef stew, cherries with duck, oranges in a kale salad, honey on top of brie…gosh, I could go on, I DO like.  

But salt, in particular, I just don’t need in my sweets. I don’t want to mess around and confuse my palate with salty stuff when I’m expecting sweet. I don’t think the Contessa has a problem with either combination. As long as it’s good, SHE’S good. I’m much fussier and so untrendy.

Back to Ina, she’s melting two sticks of butter with unsweetened and semisweet chocolate in a bowl over simmering water. I admit that I’m lazy and if I have that much butter (and, frankly, even if I don’t), I NEVER use a double boiler. I just use a heavy pot and low heat.

Ooh, again Ina says she loves “to do blogs” about the local artisanal producers around her. Why do I have to be such a nitpicker?!! I just can’t help but imagine that she’s spending her time finding templates and looking at fonts and column widths for a blog about each separate local food producer.

Ina, I love ya, but just say blog POST! Even “article” is okay. “Piece” is fine. Or acclamation, affidavit, attestation, bulletin, canon, deposition, document, essay, exposition, manifesto, notice, proclamation, pronunciamento, resolution, story, study, testament, testimony, work. Clearly, I’ve been dipping into a thesaurus (AND perhaps something stronger).  I’ll leave it at that, but if she talks about writing A BLOG again, I’m not sure what I’ll do.

Ina shows us the smooth and shiny melted butter and chocolate and lets it cool for a bit. This next step is interesting. Ina adds instant coffee, but not to the chocolate mixture…to the eggs. Ina always adds coffee when she’s making something chocolate. I guess it doesn’t matter where you add it, but instant coffee and eggs seem weird together. The “good” vanilla also goes into the eggs. That reminds me of something…Oh, I’ll tell you next time when I write a “blog” or “attestation” about Palm Springs…

Ina says this recipe makes a lot of brownies. She adds one cup plus 2 tablespoons of sugar. I was about to say that she could probably do without that extra 2 tablespoons of sugar, but I looked at one of my favorite brownie recipes and guess what? Ina is actually using a modest amount (well, in Ina terms) of sugar. This brownie recipe uses an extra 2 tablespoons.

Ina mixes the eggs with the coffee and vanilla using a spoon. I would use a fork. It’s so much more efficient. Ina pours the chocolate and butter mixture into the eggs and lets it cool even more because she’s adding chocolate chips. I’ve never cooled ANYTHING before adding chocolate chips, (I never realized how lazy I was) although I usually add them after the flour, so the mixture is never hot anyway.

Ina says the secret to this recipe is that she uses only a little flour. She sifts together ½ cup of flour.

Oh wait, here’s a good tip. Ina keeps her flour in a LARGE canister with plenty of head room. Before she measures, she uses the measuring cup to stir the top 4 inches (about) of flour to “lighten” it, so it’s not all compacted and you don’t get more flour in the cup than what’s called for. Don't waste your time struggling with measuring flour (or sugar) right out of the bag. Store them in large canisters or containers. I’ve been using the same Rubbermaid containers for eons (they do get washed). They can hold a 5 pound bag of flour, although now they’re FOUR pounds!  >:-O

Ina adds 1½ teaspoons of baking powder and some salt (ick) to the flour. She adds the dry ingredients to “the really cooled” chocolate mixture. Don’t overmix, she says. Next she mixes an additional 2 tablespoons of flour with 6 ounces of chocolate chips, so they don’t sink to the bottom of the batter. (I’ve never found that to be a problem. Actually, when I’ve tried it, sometimes it leaves little pockets of flour that don’t get mixed in completely.) Ina’s hair looks particularly glossy and thick today. Just saying...

Ina folds in the chips and flour and pours the brownie batter into a 9" by 12" buttered and floured pan. She says she’s been making these for 25 years. Lucky Jeffrey. They get baked at 350° F. for 35 minutes.

While they bake, she tells us about the Amagansett Sea Salt Co. This is interesting. Owner Steve Judelson goes into the ocean at the Atlantic Avenue beach in Amagansett and collects 100 gallons of seawater at a time. We see him wading in, even in the winter, and pouring the seawater into some kind of contraption. Back at the farm, the water is cleaned and filtered and poured into trays. In a few weeks, the water evaporates and, voila, there’s sea salt to harvest. It’s so amazing and so simple.

Back at the barn, Ina microwaves a jar of caramel until it’s runny. She takes out the brownies and drizzles the caramel on top of the brownies in both directions. She sprinkles sea salt over the top.

There’s nothing more I love than caramel, but pouring it from a jar is SUCH a complete cheat that I’m not sure I can go along with it. Of course, it makes the brownies better, but isn’t that a little bit in the marshmallow fluff, Cool Huip category? It’s totally yummy, but totally trashy. Wouldn’t making it yourself justify it somewhat? I know Ina IS using a fancy jarred caramel, Fran’s, but I just don’t see myself making this gorgeous pan of brownies and slathering them with bought caramel.

When they’re cool, Ina cuts them into 12 brownies and sprinkles them with a bit more salt.

Oh no, not again! Talking about the upcoming recipes, Ina says,“This will be one tasty blog!” No, Ina, the BLOG won’t be tasty. Your PIECE on salted caramel brownies will be tasty. I don’t think she’s hearing me.

Next Ina says she doing “a blog this week about incredible local ingredients”. I give up! I love Ina and everything she does and if she wants to misuse the word “blog”, then so be it.

Ina tells us about Quail Hill Farm and shows us the beautiful beets she got there. The beet salad she makes looks good. Here's the recipe. She takes a picture of the finished dish for “the blog”. What blog exactly is she talking about? I’ll have to look.

Ina drags out a HUGE jug of local beer from Montauk and ciabatta rolls from Southampton. She decides to makes a salmon and guacamole sandwich. For the guacamole, she scoops two avocados into a bowl. She adds ¼ cup fresh lime juice and 4 scallions, ¼ cup red onion, jalapeños and garlic. (Ina says she always adds garlic to guacamole. I never do. Not sure why, but I don’t find it necessary.) She adds pepper and a teaspoon of salt and mashes it all together with a fork. (I add ½ teaspoon of salt to THREE avocados.)

Ina is going to add the ingenious touch of applewood smoked bacon to her sandwiches. “How good does that sound?” GOOD, really good. Ina roasts her bacon at 400° F. for 15 to 20 minutes. So smart. (Who was it that roasted prosciutto, which is also a great idea. Ina or Giada? I can’t remember.)

For the salmon, Ina heats up a large cast iron pan for 5 minutes. She oils and seasons the fish on both sides. (The skin is still on, by the way.) Ina puts the salmon in the pan skin side up for 2 minutes and cooks it without moving it. She turns it over and does the same thing on the other side, before putting it in a 400° F. oven for exactly 2 minutes to finish the cooking. When it comes out of the oven, she’ll let it rest, covered with foil, for 10 to 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, she tells us about the Montauk Brewing Company, which has developed an extra special bitter ale and is working on other types of beer. 

Ina says people ask her what inspires her. She says sometimes it’s just seeing what’s around her and what wonderful ingredients the local producers have.

Ina likes toasting bread for sandwiches. she cuts ciabatta rolls in half and toasts them at 400° F. for 5 to ten minutes. They come from The Blue Duck Bakery Cafe. Keith Kouris runs it and we see their shop and café. Gosh, that bread looks good.

Ina shows us how to make the sandwich. Okay, this a bit basic, but somehow she’s got to get all the stuff assembled so she can write her “blog”. ;-) 

Ina spreads guacamole on one side of the roll. She takes the skin off a piece of salmon and breaks the fish in half widthwise, so it fits on the bun. She adds TWO pieces of bacon on top. (This really IS a party!) And…let me guess, she tops it with the other half of the roll?!! Oh! I forgot the arugula…and more salt. And she puts more guacamole on the top half of the roll. She assembles all of the sandwiches and pours a glass of beer and takes a picture.

Have I sounded hard on the Contessa? I worship at her feet, but I’m sure even she would agree that long time cooks are plenty opinionated and that’s part of the fun. By the way, here’s Ina's blog, with a neat post about her going to the White House for the Easter Egg Roll.

Caramel Note:
I found this interesting article on Culinate by a guy who shares some of my thoughts about caramel. And he's so right about its dangers. I avoided it for decades, because I poured some on my hand (instead of in a crème caramel mold). It IS hot. But buying caramel sauce feels so wrong. It’s just sugar! With easy stuff like cream and butter added…which WILL hurt you if you spill it on yourself. I guess if you value your safety, then buying it is the way to go, but I can’t bring myself to. 

More Caramel Notes:
I emailed Fran’s to get a list of ingredients in their caramel sauce. They were SO nice that I feel bad saying I would never buy it. The real problem is I would buy it and then eat it…ALL. But here’s what’s in it: cream, sugar, corn syrup, cream of tartar and salt. That’s pretty good in terms of not having additives. So this is what I would say about Fran’s. They seem like a lovely bunch of folks. Buy their chocolates. They look divine and save the caramel sauce for an extreme case when you need to feel better immediately, blood sugar levels be damned! 


The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

I saw that statue in the feed and I thought the post might be about Chicago. The Marilyn statue is Chicago always kind of gives me the creeps.

Funny you should mention liking sweet in the savory. I hate raisins most of the time, but I do like them mixed in with savory foods. (Please leave them out of my desserts though.) When it comes to salt in my sweets, I am picky. I love a good chocolate covered pretzel, but bacon and chocolate just don't work well together. No matter how many times I try it, I just don't like it.

I have made enough failed caramel recipes to occasionally use a jar of sauce. I never burned myself, but I burned some sugar to the bottom of a pot now and then. I think my use of a jar depends on both time, and how much the caramel itself is featured in the recipe.

Anonymous said...

This looks like Ina's usual brownie recipe but cut in half (she usually makes them in a half-sheet pan). I'm not quite sure how I feel about Ina promoting her friends on the show. It would be one thing for her to show the guy making salt and then say something like, "while it's nice to buy local specialty products, you can use any salt that doesn't have additives. Just check the label."

As for the blogging thing, I know she's had at least one blogger on her show -- you'd think she'd know better!

Sue said...

Hi Rach,
To tell you the truth, the Palm Springs Marilyn statue is SO kitsch that it’s almost scary. And it is incredibly huge.

I totally forgot about chocolate covered pretzels. I can definitely stand those, although they aren’t my first choice.

It’s funny. Making caramel is simple, but it isn’t EASY. And it’s one of those things that you have to pay complete attention to. I get that buying a jar of caramel is easier (and those Fran’s people are so nice), but I just can’t help feeling that it takes away from one’s homemade efforts if you pour gobs of store-bought caramel sauce over.

Hey Tom,
You’re right about the brownies, I think. And she did say she’s been making them for ages.

I like it when Ina showcases her friends. At first I was going to say “fancy friends”, but I don’t think the guy trudging into the ocean is particularly fancy. Remember that oh so chichi lighting guy, who put twinkling lights all over the yard, when Ina was entertaining a two year old? (Maybe one year old, actually.) That was a little annoying.

But, in general, I would only be bothered if Ina had friends with mediocre businesses - if they ran a Burger King or sold Strawberry Quik (which DOES have its place on Valentine’s Day). But, actually, that short clip about the salt guy was really interesting. It’s so easy to forget or just not realize that sea salt really does COMES FROM THE SEA!

I’m so wishy washy about additives. I’m happy they’re not in that caramel sauce that Ina was using, but when I bought Kosher salt with no additives, I couldn’t stand it! Now I use that one for scrubbing pots and have gone back to my good old Morton Kosher salt in the blue box.

Oh, and in the brownie recipe, Ina says to use a sea salt like Maldon’s. So I guess she’s open to other varieties.

PS I'm so glad you don't think I'm insane for flinching when she says "blog" for "blog post".

Emily said...

That Marilyn statue is huge!
They don't have the one in Chicago anymore.

I always have trouble with my caramel separating. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn't. So frustrating.

Sue said...

Hey Em,
The one is Chicago IS the one in Palm Springs. It's really amazing and kind of scary looking in a way, because it's done on such a large scale.

Caramel is tricky, but its rewards are great. It's sooo good!

Aly ~ Cooking in Stilettos said...

I made those brownies for a gal's night last year and they were delish - but came out like a molten cake (probably because I used an 8x8 pan). Lesson learned - when Ina speaks, I'm listening and following instructions EXACTLY.

I tend to make my own caramel sauce - so simple and I try to avoid the additives and all things HFCS.

RE: the blog - I totally get it *LOL*. I don't think she understands that writing a blog is different from writing a blog POST tho. I do think the girls in her office know the difference. Sweet woman - just needs a bit of blogger coaching. :)

Sue said...

You can totally substitute TWO 8” x 8” pans for one 9” x 13”. I’m not surprised they were a “bit” undercooked in the middle. Actually, I often do the REVERSE. Many times when a recipe calls for an 8” x 8” pan, I use a 9” x 13”. That way I can stretch the recipe a bit more and get thinner blondies or brownies. (I do reduce the cooking time.)

About the caramel sauce. That bad stuff is hidden in so many places that it’s good to control it when we can.

Dear sweet Ina…yeah, it’s fine that she doesn’t know the difference between a post or a blog…as long as she keeps her recipes straight.