Each week I follow along with Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa) and attempt to recreate one of her dishes in my tiny New York City kitchen. The catch? This is my version of cooking school and I’m making these recipes for the first time. I’ll share both my successes and um, challenges, along the way and we’ll see if I can keep up with the Contessa!
Episode: “What Are Friends For”
The Set-up: Ina’s friends, Frank and Steven, have guests coming for dinner and everyone is stuck in traffic. Guess who is saving the day?
0:44 – We’re starting with the Herb Marinated Pork Loin, since well it has to marinate. (Timing!)
1:59 – I can hear English & Science teachers everywhere cheering when Ina makes a point of differentiating between “1 tablespoon minced rosemary” and “1 tablespoon rosemary, minced.” A subtle but important difference in the order of cooking operations…
2:37 – As she minces, then measures the rosemary and thyme Ina advocates for fresh herbs vs. dried. I think my cooking improved a lot once I started using fresh herbs.
3:15 – Trust that Ina wishes there were a more “glamorous” way to marinate meat other than a plastic Ziploc bag.
4:01 – Thank goodness we don’t have to see it for too long, the pork loins in their pedestrian plastic are whisked away to the fridge.
5:23 – Wait a minute, Ina is bringing the flowers for the table too? Did Frank and Steven forget they were having guests or are they just champion procrastinators?
6:09 – In any event, Ina selected a white and green flowers since that’s what Frank likes and is arranging them in a short drinking glass. Pro Tip#1: low arrangements on the table so people can see over them.
9:34 – I think Ina’s worried about the opinions we might be forming of Frank and Steven, but I’m afraid it’s too late. I now have them pegged as irresponsible hosts!
10:20 – Moving on to the Greek Panzanella – an Italian dish reimagined with Greek flavors like olives and feta.
11:36 – A little vegetable chopping montage – bell peppers, red onion, cherry tomatoes, English cucumbers – so soothing!
12:48 – As she’s making the dressing for the salad Ina acknowledges that’s “unusual for her” but that she has one exception to her fresh herbs rule: oregano, which she finds too strong in its fresh form.
13:14 – Pro Tip #2: Crush dried herbs, like oregano, between your hands to release the remaining oils in the leaves.
14:23 – A brief check-in with our delinquent hosts as they drive home. That’s right, Frank & Steven, you better sing Ina’s praises for saving your dinner party bacon.
15:43 – Back to Ina as she finishes the Greek Panzanella by adding Kalamata olives and diced feta. I’m still waiting to develop a taste for olives – so far they’re still on my “avoid” list.
19:19 – Ina’s still trying to rehabilitate Frank and Steven’s image, but it won’t work no matter how “big [she] owes them for so many things” or how “delighted” she claims to be to make Plum Crunch for them.
20:05 – Ina is stirring the sliced plums together with flour, cassis, and sugar, which will combine to make the “goo” of the filling. She says it takes a little judgment to determine when a little more or less flour is called for, depending on how juicy the fruit is. So tricky, I still don’t know for sure!
21:32 – Ina compares Plum Crunch to Apple Crisp, but I think this might be even more low-maintenance, because she isn’t peeling the plums.
22:21 – As she crumbles the topping over the plums Ina says that one of the pleasures of baking is the scent filling the house – isn’t that so true? Especially on a rainy, chilly fall day.
23:46 – The “dinner to-go” is packed with the efficient-getting-things-done music in the background and then Ina’s “so out of here” on her way to save the day!
26:07 – Frank and Steven tried to get out of helping, but Ina put them to work setting the table. Way to not let them off the hook on everything!
28:38 – Raiding the freezer which contains only vodka and vanilla ice cream. Hilarious.
29:12 – Ina seems to have been included in the dinner after they released her from the kitchen. Gracious to the end, though, she says they can call her for take out anytime.
That Herb Marinated Pork Loin looks amazing…
I love the idea of translating a dish from one flavor profile to another – could a Middle Eastern version of panzanella be far behind?
Ina is probably the best friend ever – I can’t picture a time when I’d be able to pull off an elegant dinner for six at a moment’s notice.
The flavors and ingredients of the Herb Marinated Pork Loin sounded delicious and the preparation straightforward, but I actually had a lot of trouble cooking the meat. The recipe calls for browning the pork loins in olive oil and then placing the sauté pan in the oven to finish cooking.
I found that even with the oil quite hot and the meat fairly clean of marinade it took a long time to brown the exterior and again the cooking time in the oven was too short to cook through. When I sliced the tenderloins I found the thicker pieces weren’t just pink, but actually a little raw looking even after resting. Not good and more than a little frustrating when they look so delicious on the outside!
In the future I’d recommend adding another 5-7 minutes to the time in the oven and rotating the meat halfway through the cooking to make sure they’re evenly done.
Small Kitchen Friendly?
Yes, definitely. The most important item is a sauté pan large enough for the pork loins. I also used a chef’s knife, microplane grater, measuring spoons and liquid measuring cup, as well as tongs, a meat thermometer and aluminum foil.
To be honest, I only tasted a small piece of the Herb Marinated Pork Loin and the flavors were wonderful, but I was so aggravated by the cooking process that all I wanted was peanut butter toast. Mike, on the other hand, did have the tenderloin for dinner and deemed it delicious. He claims he’d like to have it again, but only if I’m sure there will be no kitchen meltdowns in the process! My plan: learn from my past experience and try again; if you have success, I’d love to know your advice too!