I just spent the most enjoyable hour with Bobby and Ina. They were doing a test run of all the recipes they were serving for Thanksgiving. I won’t do my usual blow by blow of every knife stroke, because there were a lot of dishes, but I will go through them. Let’s see what sounds good.
If you’re like me, every year you look through tons of Thanksgiving recipes to see if there’s anything you want to add to your menu. (And it IS usually adding to and never subtracting from.) I know instantly if I’m not interested in a given recipe. Since I always stuff my turkey, I set aside most turkey recipes. Nobody wants the hassle of stuffing the bird anymore (I do!) and brining is the most popular thing going. I’ve never been convinced that you can stuff a brined turkey without the stuffing being way too salty, so most recipes are nonstarters. Bobby shows Ina (and us) how to SMOKE a turkey. I love him, I love Ina’s outdoor area, but I’m not going to do that, so let’s move on.
Ina wants to give Bobby a taste of her Apple Bread Pudding, which she’ll make instead of stuffing this year. Oh my, this looks like a winning dish AND it can be made the day before. She sautés pancetta in butter with onions, celery and one Granny Smith apple. Then Ina adds sherry, fresh rosemary, salt, pepper and parsley. Separately, Ina puts together a custard with 5 EXTRA LARGE eggs (here we go again!)*, chicken stock, cream and Gruyere. To be honest, I’d be tempted to leave out the cheese. If this is a stuffing substitute, I think adding cheese is weird.
Ina toasts bread cubes at 350°F for 20 minutes and, of course, don’t forget to use “good bread”. She adds the sautéed vegetables with all their juices to the custard and bread. The mixture goes into a rectangular baking dish and Ina adds a bit of Gruyere on top. Then it’s refrigerated overnight. She doesn’t mention that an important calculation you have to make is the oven space you have available. You need 45 minutes at 350°F. I’m thinking I can do it after the turkey comes out. Ina tests it with a knife. If it comes out clean, the custard is done.
Bobby is back with the turkey. (By the way, that thing takes HOURS to cook.) Okay, cool…not doing it. He comes in to taste the bread pudding. Bobby gives Ina a big “Wow!” He loves the crustiness on top and says it’s “Absolutely superb”. They exclaim that it will make it onto the (imaginary) buffet that they’re serving (together) on Thanksgiving.
Ina says they both agree that they never have a first course on Thanksgiving. Yeah, I get the concept, but I would NEVER do that. The idea of diving into the full meal without a little pre-eating does not appeal to me. I don’t follow the super-light appetizer rule either.
This is my Superbowl of cooking. Go big or go home! We also learn that Ina loves to serve Thanksgiving as a buffet because she hates the idea of all those bowls all over the table. HUH?!! Isn’t that the point? This is Amurica and shouldn’t Thanksgiving dinner be served family style (if you have the room)?!!
Their next dish would make a great first course, even though I usually go with soup. Bobby is making a Heartland Salad. They get busy stripping the kale off its woody stems. I’m not doing that. I would buy baby spinach, baby kale and maybe a bit of baby arugula. I do not need another vegetable to prep.
Bobby chops an Asian pear and says you can also use a regular pear or even an apple. (I usually go with Bosc pears for salads. I like Mark Bittman’s rule which is when the “shoulders are soft”, they’re ripe.) Ina gets to work (and it IS work) chopping the kale.
Bobby has soaked the dried cranberries a bit to plump them up and overcooked the wild rice, which is softer and absorbs the dressing more. He says when wild rice is cooked the regular way, it’s kind of “pine needle-y”. He’s so right! I think I may always overcook wild rice from now on!
Bobby throws the dressing ingredients into a bowl, acknowledging that Ina likes to measure. Ina is pretty sure that his rough measurements are pretty exact. He’s using white wine vinegar, Dijon, a splash of honey, a tiny bit of pomegranate molasses (yum), and salt and pepper. That’s all whisked with olive oil. He and Ina are on the same page with their vinaigrettes. They like them heavily acidic with two parts of oil to one part vinegar or lemon juice, instead of the classic three parts of oil to one part acid. You may never hear me say this again, but I don’t have an opinion about this. I figure it out based on what I’m making. If the salad needs more tang, I’d go with the 2 to 1 rule. If not, I might stick to 3 to 1.
Bobby gathers all the salad ingredients and says, “Everybody is going to go into the pool.” Ina likes that. Kale, baby spinach, pears and cranberries, walnuts, salt and pepper…it all goes in. Ina giggles. Bobby’s trick with the dressing is to spoon it around the (inside) perimeter of the bowl so that he doesn’t overdress the salad. He tosses it all together and then Ina remembers the rice! He adds it and has to add more dressing. So much for his lightly dressed salad. He plates it and it looks gorgeous. If I were serving this as a side dish (and with that Apple Bread Pudding too), I might leave out the wild rice.
They go on to Bobby’s 15 layer potato gratin. It turns out the name could be an exaggeration. He calls the actual recipe ELEVEN layer. It depends on how big your dish is and how many layers you put in. He and Ina layer thinly mandolined Idaho potatoes with salt, pepper and cream. That’s it. They remind us not to rinse them after peeling, because you want the starch. And Bobby explains, “Eventually we want the cream to become part of the potatoes and reduce.” The exciting part is what he puts on top - shallots in butter with a pinch of sugar, cooked until caramelized. AND he’ll add fried sage.
Bobby goes out to baste his gorgeously brown turkey while Ina makes orange and honey carrots. She cooks carrots, covered, in water, butter and minced ginger for 5 minutes. Then she uncovers them and cooks them until the water evaporates. They simmer for another 5 minutes with orange juice and zest. She seasons them and they can be done the day before. Ina heats them up in an olive oil coated pan, while Bobby plays with his turkey some more.
Bobby tells us he could pinch himself – He’s at Ina Garten’s house “doing Thanksgiving practice! Wouldn’t you wanna be here?” YES!!! I would! And I kinda feel like I am. That’s how effortless these two pros are at letting us in the kitchen with them, watching and learning their tricks and turns.
Standing over the carrots, Ina and Bobby agree that reheated food has to be seasoned again before serving. Bobby says the food seems to go through a “flavor filter”, where the refrigeration blunts the seasoning. Hmmm, I have to think about that. He also says you also have to rehydrate and he guesses (correctly) that Ina added a bit of olive oil to loosen things up. Bobby tastes the carrots after Ina (re)seasons them. He approves and laughs as he tastes them, “So good.” And he jokes with her saying, “Can you imagine (me saying), You know what, Ina? I don’t think the carrots are gonna make Thanksgiving.” Harhar. As if. He continues, “The entire country of America would hate me.” Ina laughs heartily. Love her.
While Bobby bastes the turkey again. Ina moves on to a Brussels sprout dish. She shreds them in a food processor and sautés them in butter and olive oil. Ina says this is so much easier than roasting AND it frees up the oven. She drizzles over balsamic vinegar. I like that, but I don’t like the muddy color it gives the dish. I would definitely use a white balsamic vinegar, even a lemon one, if you can find it.
Bobby tests his turkey. He says the key number to remember is 160°F. But he says 155°F. is actually okay for the breast and the thigh should be 160°F. Whoa, Nelly! Food safety experts would NOT agree with that.
The USDA says the breast, thigh AND stuffing should all measure 165°F. Butterball goes a little overboard and recommends 180°F. for the thigh and 165°F. for the breast.
Bobby takes his turkey’s temperature. The breast is 157°F. and the thigh is 162°F. I usually split the difference and do 160°F. for the breast, but I make sure the thigh and stuffing are 165°F. And always put the thermometer in the thickest part of the breast and the thickest part of the thigh, not touching the bone. Obviously, this whole issue is why people spatchcock their turkeys. That’s fine, but I like the challenge of cooking a big bird, whole, stuffed and intact.
Finally Bobby brings in the turkey. Ina says it looks amazing. While it rests, they test the sprouts. Bobby loves the balsamic vinegar addition and remarks that the two of them cook so much alike. She laughs and says she’d LIKE to cook like him.
For the Potato Gratin garnish, they fry the sage in canola (ICK!) oil. The amount of oil Ina and Bobby use shows they’re definitely not paying for their own oil. Ina acts like she’s never done this and asks how long they cook. “30 seconds, Missy,” Bobby says! (He didn’t really say that, but he could have, since they’re so cute together.) Bobby salts the sage leaves straight out of the pan. He tops the cooked potato gratin with the beautiful shallots and then the sage. Ina is in heaven and decrees that this dish will definitely be on the table. (Instead of the Gruyere, the shallot and sage situation would be a good thing to top the bread pudding with.)
Bobby carves the turkey. He separates the legs and cuts off the thigh. Like Ina, he carves each breast off in one big piece and then cuts it sideways. Ina says her father could carve a turkey beautifully, but he was a surgeon. They taste the turkey. She says it’s actually the moistest turkey she’s ever had.
Ina shows us how she simply, but elegantly, set the table.
Ina tells us how she made her cranberries. They’re okay, but look at this recipe. It’s my cranberry staple and soooooo good.
Lastly, Bobby shows Ina how to make his Autumn Sangria. He starts by teaching her how to bash the outside of a pomegranate to get the seeds out. Ina’s pretending this is all new to her. I guess if Bobby Flay were in MY kitchen showing me, I would let him too.
Bobby says this is another “everyone in the pool” recipe. He soaks the fruit in all the liquor and wine for quite a long time. I worry that the fruit could become somewhat flabby if left too long. He adds pear brandy to the fruit in the pitcher. Great idea! Then Calvados. Even better! (Ina has to open the bottle for Bobby. Funny.) And then red wine and apple cider go in. WOWEE! He adds cinnamon simple syrup, which is just simple syrup made with cinnamon sticks. The pomegranate seeds go in at the end.
Bobby pours them a taste. Ina exclaims, “Oh, we’re getting whole glasses! Let’s get serious! We’re done testing. We can now drink!” Bobby even tells us HOW to pour the sangria. Spoon some fruit in the bottom of the glass and then pour in the sangria, holding back the other fruit with a wooden spoon. Ina is enchanted with everything. They toast to the best Thanksgiving ever.
I love Ina and Bobby together. I love their happy enthusiasm. They make a perfectly charming pair and their chemistry is undeniable. FYI, The Food Network is repeating this show on Saturday morning (November 21) at 9 am, 11/23 at 4 pm and, cutting it a little close, Wednesday 11/25 at 1pm.
I hope all your holiday dinner preparations go as swimmingly as theirs did. And, after all the chopping is done, I’m sure Ina would approve of a cocktail or two.
* If the recipe says 5 extra-large eggs, use 6 large.