Friday, March 16, 2007

Ina and Jeffrey Sitting In A Tree

E - A - T - I - N - G

Barefoot Contessa
Wedding Anniversary

Shrimp with Cocktail Sauce
Steak Bearnaise
Rosemary Roasted Potatoes

String Beans with Shallots

To get the recipes:

Ina’s plan is to update the shrimp cocktail that Jeffrey loves so much for their 35th anniversary. Oh good, now we'll get wise advice on shrimp AND marriage. Boil the large shrimp in their skins for a quick 3 minutes. Place in cold water. Good thinking. Why burn the digits just to peel shrimp?

The ever-adorable Jeffrey explains that “anniversaries are very important to us.” Particularly after he forgot their 20th, he got smart and learned that “anniversaries are very important to us.

He’s thought carefully about what to get his bride of three and a half decades. He’s decided that a box of brownies will express all that he feels and bring back the memories of their early years together, when Ina, still in high school, sent the college man, Jeffrey, a box of brownies every 2 weeks.

Well, that is sweet, but how about the keys to a Parisian apartment or at least a gorgeous green Aga? And isn’t bringing brownies to the famous Contessa straying somewhat into Coals to Newcastle territory?

I’ll leave it to Jeffrey to figure out the key to his love’s heart. She’s said many times, the key to HIS is a good meal. Does that have anything to do with the fact that when she’s only cooking for two of them, she makes enough for 10 or 12?

Back to the kitchen. I love what’s she’s doing with the lemon that will garnish the shrimp. She’s carving a v pattern through the middle of the lemon all the way around so that each half will be left with an v-ed scalloped edge. That’s so attractive, so retro, so perfect.

She starts the Rosemary Roasted Potatoes. These are going to be gooooooood. Olive oil, Kosher salt (whoa there!), pepper and rosemary. Roast at 400 degrees for one hour.

Meanwhile, Jeffrey rushes into the flower store. Oh, ok, I’m sure he’s going to make up for the brownies with a MAGNIFICENT bouquet of her favorite flowers. It will be one color of glorious blooms, with a light green background fern. I bet the bunch will be bigger than Jeffrey as he heaves it into the car.

Wait a minute. Jeffrey greets Michael, (for whom Ina’s cooked a million times) and says he needs to jazz up his present for Ina. Hold on…he walks out with what?…a length of ribbon?! That’s it? I’m not quite seeing it, Jeffrey…

Ina’s cooking is proceeding apace. “I know everyone thinks my recipes start with a pound of butter, well, this one doesn’t. It only starts with a HALF pound of butter." Good one, Ina. She adds 3 yolks, after cracking them on the counter.

May I please have your attention for a minute? Cracking eggs on a counter DOES look cool, but you may be leaving traces of raw egg and all its attendant potential hazards. Let’s not do that.

A la Craig and Julia, Ina is making her Bearnaise sauce in a blender. Definitely the way to go. The final product is wonderful and you have a 99% LESS chance of it curdling than the old-fashioned-over-hot-water way.

Ina leaves the steaks out “to take the chill off”. She reminds us to oil and salt and pepper them on EACH side. His Cute-Grey-Curliness is in charge of cooking the steaks outside. He starts the fire. Oh, Jeffrey, don't forget to oil the grill before putting them on. He doesn't.

Ina proceeds to the haricots verts. She saut├ęs shallots in butter and oil. You know, butter has the flavor, but oil has the higher smoking temperature. She blanches the green beans – 1 minute in boiling water, then into ice water to stop the cooking.

Julia always used to say that IF it was so unhealthy to cook vegetables that way, as opposed to steaming for example, then why were her vegetables always a brilliant fresh green color and the steamed ones looked brown? (Yeah, go Julia!) Ina finishes the beans with the shallots and, voila, beautiful beans.

Ok, so we know that the earth didn’t move with this episode. But it did cover quite a few important basics that the French have taught us. Even though we may flirt with more exciting palate-tingling cuisines, the truth is that NO ONE CAN COOK LIKE THE FRENCH. Their respect for fine, fresh ingredients is unparalleled and their cooking methods are straightforward and easily learned.

Ina serves her man the shrimp as the steaks are cooking. She leaves Jeffrey briefly to finish up the Bearnaise. She says to make it a bit in advance and then just add 2 tablespoons of HOT water to bring back its silky emulsive-self. Potatoes? Parfait.

After dining, he takes her in the car for a surprise.

She rests her hand lightly on his shoulder as he drives. They are a classic pairing like Sauternes and Foie Gras.

Down to the beach they go for the presentation. There are no surprises here, the gift is the (kind of dumb) brownies tied with the ribbon, but you know what? Ina loves them...and him. Smart woman. She knows it’s better to appreciate a bird in the hand than…how does that go? Anyway, just like Barbra sang to Kris – Love, soft as an easy chair – that’s Jeffrey with his Contessa, all 35 years worth…

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