Ina Garten, aka The Barefoot Contessa, and her cookbooks are already a source of guidance for basic recipes but her show serves as my inspiration for more adventurous culinary efforts. So now that I’ve got the essentials down it’s time to branch out. I’ll choose a recipe from an episode of the Barefoot Contessa to try in my tiny New York kitchen. We’ll see if I can keep up with the Contessa!
Episode: “Barefoot Celebrations – Wedding Anniversary”
The Set-up: Ina and Jeffrey are celebrating their 45th Wedding Anniversary
0:05 – My, how time flies! It seems like just a week or so ago we were celebrating Ina and Jeffrey’s 39th Anniversary and now here we are!
0:57 – First up are the Chocolate Peanut Butter Globs inspired by Ina and Jeffrey’s dinners at Soho Charcuterie.
0:59 – I had to look this one up and it turns out that Soho Charcuterie was an NYC restaurant in the 1980s, which The Gothamist (partially) credits with putting Soho on the map. I think it’s fair to say that Ina and Jeffrey get points for being trendsetters.
1:15 – Okay, back to the task at hand. Ina has put her own spin on the original recipe by adding peanut butter chips to the mix. A woman after my own heart.
2:03 – Ina’s in charge of the baking and cooking while Jeffrey visits the local vineyard to select a bottle of wine. Someone – ahem, Jeffrey – seems to have gotten the better end of that deal.
3:12 – Pro tip #1: Cool the melted chocolate slightly before adding it to eggs in order to avoid a chocolate scramble. I have to remember that one – the alternative is frankly disturbing.
4:22 – Pro tip #2: Mixing chocolate chips and nuts with a small amount of flour will keep them from settling to the bottom of the batter. I’ve never noticed whether my cookies have this issue, but this seems like a good idea.
5:30 – Cookie baking time and I hate to sound critical, Ina, but the word “glob” doesn’t really do it for me. Could we call these cookies something else more tantalizing? I’m just spitballing, but how about “Chocolate Peanut Butter Clusters” – would that work?
9:17 – Now we’re making the Crispy Mustard Roasted Chicken. I wonder how many chickens Ina has prepared over the course of forty-five years of marriage – I’m afraid that the number might be quite starling…
10:09 – This recipe looks pretty similar to making oven fried chicken, but fancified, yes that’s a made-up word, for a special dinner.
10:11 – White wine and mustard dip + crispy panko, garlic, lemon, thyme coating. Simple, elegant and no frying oil. Nice. This isn’t Shake N’ Bake people.
12:55 – Meanwhile at the vineyard, Jeffrey is tasting white wines. Now this is my jam. Gewuztraminer, Riesling, chardonnay (unoaked please!) – all music to my ears. Jeffrey chooses something called “White Mischief.” I have no comment.
14:03 – As Jeffrey is leaving, the vineyard Roman presents him with a gigantic bottle of sparkling wine as an anniversary present. I would love to see the Gartens attempt to drink this – 100% confident that hilarity would ensue.
18:16 – Ina’s Creamy Cheddar Grits are inspired by the early years of their marriage when Jeffrey was in the military and they used to live in North Carolina. I can’t really picture Ina living on a military base – I think I might need proof. Pictures or it didn’t happen!
18:30 – She says they’re ‘surprisingly delicious’ but millions of Southerns can’t be wrong. Collard greens on the other hand I do not understand.
19:27 – Jeffrey is up to something again… a framed photo from their wedding as a present. What a sweet guy!
21:46 – Since it’s their Sapphire Anniversary, Ina has set the table with a deep blue tablecloth and hydrangeas – clever girl.
22:05 – The linens and candles are so simple, but the effect together is lovely. It also doesn’t hurt that they’ll be dining in a gorgeous Hamptons garden….
26:11 – Time for the Crispy Roasted Kale and to finish up the grits. Kale chips seem to be the new hotness of the last 2-3 years, so I imagine I’ll have to cave at some point and make these.
26:39 – Pro tip #3: Ina takes the grits off the heat before stirring in the grated cheddar. I always have trouble with cheddar separating into something unappetizing and I bet this is the secret to success: a slow melt.
27:33 – Ina’s reaction to the magnum of sparkling wine is cracking me up: ”Oh, my goodness!” She seems genuinely taken aback by this huge bottle. Looks like no drinking games tonight, friends.
28:23 – Ina proposes a toast to “putting up with me for forty-five years!” Jeffrey good-naturedly claims to need a bigger glass or better yet “a Scotch!” Oh, you two!
29:02 – Jeffrey reveals his surprise – the framed wedding photo – and begins his campaign to another successful forty-five years of marital bliss with a Win. Well done.
Ina’s a master at taking a simple dish and adding some new flavors to make it special.
Like Ina and Jeffrey, Mike and I lived in the South for a few years, but would you believe I’ve never attempted grits before? This needs remedying.
Jeffrey has a track record of getting into things on anniversaries – he may bear closer monitoring in the future.
Lessons Learned: Since we really need dinner more than we need dessert – so practical! – I made the Crispy Mustard Roasted Chicken and the Creamy Cheddar Grits. I decided to serve these two richer dishes with an arugula salad dressed with mustard vinaigrette instead of kale, but I think a bitter green like spinach or Brussels sprouts is definitely the way to go.
These recipes are small kitchen friendly – one sheet pan, one small food processor, a few shallow bowls, one medium pot, a cutting board and a few basic kitchen tools and don’t require advanced kitchen skills. I did have a little trouble keeping the coating on the chicken, when we cut into our pieces a lot of it flaked off, so that’s something to strive for next time. The grits were really excellent and far simpler than I realized, so these can go into the side-dish rotation for sure.
Mike and I both really liked this dinner a lot since it has all our favorite things – flavorful chicken, cheesy grits, and a green vegetable to brighten it all up. I have a feeling this will be a go-to dinner worthy of company.