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. I’ll follow along with an episode of the Barefoot Contessa, then choose a recipe to try in my tiny New York kitchen. We’ll see if I can keep up with the Contessa!
Episode: “Shore Thing”
The Set-up: Ina and Jeffrey are spending a day at the docks in Montauk. They’ll watch the boats and pick-up some seafood for dinner
0:55 – Before Ina and Jeffrey head over to the marina, Ina’s getting a head start on dinner by making Vanilla Panna Cotta for their dessert.
1:37 –The panna cotta recipe calls for heavy cream, plain yogurt, vanilla extract and vanilla bean seeds. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a vanilla bean in the grocery store, yet Ina seems to use them all the time. My mission is clear: locate whole vanilla beans!
2:10 – The process for this recipe seems a little complicated – a warm mixture (cream, gelatin, and sugar) is added to a cold mixture (cream, yogurt, vanilla, etc.)
3:07 - What is it about things that have to ‘set’ that make me nervous? Ina says they need at least 8 hours in the refrigerator. I’m not as organized as she is and I’d probably have to do them the day before.
4:01 – Next up: California BLTs for a picnic lunch on the dock. Pro Tip #1: cook the bacon on a tray in the oven and avoid the splatter of sautéing on the stovetop. I concur 100% with this advice, so much less stressful.
5:17 – Ina seems mildly guilty over her love of BLTs and says that using “really good” ingredients is her excuse. Neither statement makes sense to me – when did the BLT become passé?
5:49 – The bacon is out of the oven and it looks absolutely perfect, like the pictures in an IHOP menu.
9:12 – Ina is slicing avocados for the California part of the BLTs. Pro Tip #2: buy avocados a day or two in advance of when you want to use them so they have time to ripen. I have such a hard time getting the timing right – if only there were a way to accurately predict!
10:16 – At this point she makes a reference to BLTs as a “mayonnaise delivery system.” I have new insight into the reason an excuse to make them is required…
10:48 – Ina is tossing the avocado slices in lemon juice to keep them from turning brown. Like with apples; avocado + air = discoloration.
11:07 – I think I need to send in an Ask Ina question about avocados, because this is something else I have trouble with. The acid in the juice seems to break down the avocado – too early and I have mush, too late and they’re brown.
11:55 – Back to sandwich assembly – Ina is using large slices of toasted bakery bread, Bibb lettuce, bacon, thick slices of tomato, the aforementioned avocado, and salt/pepper for seasoning. These sandwiches are not messing around.
13:01 – As she wraps up the sandwiches Ina gives us some words of wisdom on marriage. It sounds like she’s an equal opportunity proponent of the “happy wife/husband, happy life” axiom. Seems to be working for the Gartens so far!
13:30 – The picnic is packed and they’re on their way to Montauk to watch the boats. Jeffrey is trying to pitch Ina on the benefits of boat ownership, and she is not buying it.
18:16 – The boat-watching is over and the Gartens have stopped into the local fish shop where Ina chooses sea scallops for dinner, noting that she’d much rather buy them than be out on a boat catching them. I have a feeling the only yacht Jeffrey is getting will fit in the bathtub.
19:37 – We’re back in the kitchen with Ina to make balsamic strawberries for the panna cotta. Pro Tip #3: Balsamic vinegar is like wine, the more it ages the better it tastes.
20:38 – Now to un-mold the panna cotta that’s been chilling (like a villain? Sorry.) Ina dips the ramekins in hot water and running a knife around the edge.
21:03 – Ina sets the panna cotta on the sweetest plate decorated with little purple flowers and spoons the macerated Balsamic Strawberries in a circle around each custard. A final sprinkle of lemon zest and we’re done. This looks so good and summery, mmmmmmm.
25:43 – Time to prepare the Scallops Provencal – first a quick seasoning with salt and pepper, then tossed in a tablespoon or so of flour and into a sauté pan with a little melted butter.
27:11 – While the scallops cook, Ina chops fresh parsley, garlic, and shallots, which then go into the pan too. She must be really fast with her knife work; I’d need to have the veggies prepped in advance or risk some burnt scallops…
28:37 – The scallops cook with the herbs and vegetable for a minute or two and then Ina adds some white wine to de-glaze the pan and make the sauce. I love a white wine sauce and this whole recipe looks delicious.
28:55 – Ina is finishing up the Herbed Basmati Rice with fresh parsley, dill, and scallions forked into the fluffy rice. She doesn’t say this, so I’ll help a sister out and suggest my own Pro Tip: a fork is the right tool to lighten cooked rice, a spoon just presses the grains together and makes a gummy mixture. Eww.
29:16 – The scallops, rice, and panna cotta are all ready and plated, so Ina and Jeffrey head out to the garden for dinner on what looks like a perfect late summer evening. Ahh heaven.
29:51 – Jeffrey chooses this blissful moment to make one last play for a boat. Ina’s reply: “Not on my watch.” Jeffrey hangs tough, though and they finish their dinner toasting to a “(distant) future boat.” And, scene.
I’ve only made panna cotta one time, but the Vanilla Panna Cotta with Balsamic Strawberries looks so good. I kinda want to try again…
We took exactly zero picnics last summer, which is a travesty I will have to remedy in 2014.
Jeffrey is DYING for a boat, people. Will no one take pity on him?
Lessons Learned: In our household Mike is the one who has mastered the technique of searing scallops, but I’ve never made them and they’re one of my favorite dishes. Right before we left on our trip I decided to test my self by making the Scallops Provencal with Herbed Basmati Rice. First up, the rice is incredibly easy – if you can make a box of Near East pilaf, you can make this no problem.
The scallops proved a little more challenging to me. Forgive me cooking gods, for I have sinned! I chalk my difficulties up to two factors. One – I had a ton of small bay scallops and violated the cardinal rule of pan spacing by putting too many in at one time which lowers the temperature and prevents searing. Two – I further muddied the waters by not getting the butter hot enough (I was worried about burning it) in the first place.
I managed to salvage the dish by turning up the flame (thank goodness for gas stoves!) but it never looked quite as good as Ina’s. I will have to try again and be strict with myself so that my scallops sear instead of steam.
The good news – there is very little prep involved and it is definitely a small kitchen-friendly dish. To make both the Scallops and the Rice I used one medium sauce pan, one large sauté pan, a cutting board, chef’s knife, tongs, a measuring cup & spoons. That’s really it!
The Verdict: Despite my somewhat inept approach to this dish it still tasted quite good – so it must be fairly forgiving, hooray! The flour-dusted scallops create a rich, creamy sauce, which makes this a nice cold weather dinner, and we both thought that the herbed rice was nice, light compliment. I would definitely make Scallops Provencal again – Mike and I liked the flavors, and it’s a unique version of comfort food.