As inspiration for more adventurous culinary efforts I’m following along with Ina Garten, aka The Barefoot Contessa, in my tiny New York kitchen. Let’s see if I can keep up with the Contessa!
Episode: “Girls That Grill”
The Set-up: Ina and some lady friends are showing the guys how it’s done with their own cookout. Laura’s hosting, Valerie is setting the table and providing granddaughters.
0:39 – As Ina describes the premise of the episode I realize that she’s doing all the cooking, while the others just bring table settings. The least they could do is bring beer!
1:10 – First up, and frankly most important: the Blue Cheese Burgers. Pro Tip #1: use a combination of ground chuck (moisture, aka fat content) and ground sirloin (flavor.)
2:51 – Ina forks together the ground beef with breadcrumbs, steak sauce and eggs before forming the patties. How do we feel about this meatloaf-esque mix? I'm not so sure….
3:36 – While the burgers chill before the party, we get an interlude with Laura (the hostess) at her oceanfront home. I take it back, all she needs to do is keep paying the mortgage; I’ll bring the beer.
4:44 – We’re back with Ina to make the Chocolate Sauce sundaes. In her catering days she’d make sundaes for the children at family barbecues and fancy desserts for the adults, but guess who wanted sundaes too? Sundaes = crowd-pleaser.
5:12 – Pro Tip #2: add a little brewed coffee to bring out the chocolate flavor. This is a classic Ina recommendation, but worth repeating.
9:18 – We get a brief lesson on clams (steamers = best for linguini with clam sauce, little necks = small & expensive) as she searches for the right clams for chowder. Colin, our Seafood Shop rep, comes to the rescue with chowder clams that fortunately have already been shucked. How convenient….
10:37 – Back in the kitchen to start the chowder the best way: onions sautéed in butter. Always a good decision.
11:14 – Over to Valerie for a table setting discussion. Ah-ha! Valerie seems to own a home décor shop and now I understand why she’s in charge of the table. I’m betting there won’t be a paper plate in sight!
12:59 – Onward with the clam chowder! Ina makes a case for fresh clam juice, and while I’d like to tease her about this the idea of bottled clam juice gives me the chills
13:06 – Next, the roux (melted butter + flour + whisking) and Ina give us a super helpful Pro Tip #3: to prevent flour-y lumps whisk a ladle of the hot clam stock into the roux before adding it to the larger pot.
14:23 – Now I see why the clam juice is so important. The diced clams, which only need to cook for 2 minutes, are added at the very end and don’t really have time to flavor the chowder.
15:02 – This chowder looks so, so good. I’d love to be near the ocean with a cup and some oyster crackers right now….
19:17 – Time for the Guacamole Salad, which is essentially the vegetables you’d find in guac but diced larger and tossed in a lime vinaigrette.
20:29 – Ina mentions that she doesn’t like really hot dishes, so I’m surprised that she’s adding jalapeños to the salad. Honestly, I usually skip them when I make guacamole.
22:34 – A little last minute prep montage – charcoal chimneys being filled, tomatoes being sliced, paper napkins being put into Mini Coopers – all set to the Barefoot Contessa “things-are-afoot” music.
23:15 – Two things: one, that is a GIANT cooler; and two, Ina is super Prepared (capital P) with storage containers.
27:36 – I can’t tell what time of year this is, but if I had to guess I’d say September. Valerie’s granddaughters are rocking their cable knit sweaters (grey & lemon yellow if you’re wondering.)
28:03 – Laura is put in charge of the grill, but I saw her and Ina both pressing down on the Blue Cheese Burgers with a spatula, which is a no-no. Ladies, I know it’s tempting, but you know better than that! Think of the juices!
28:52 – The granddaughters decline the blue cheese, but earn their keep by helping with the Guacamole Salad.
29:41 – Last but not least: a toast to girls grilling (and ruling!) with the Chocolate and Vanilla Sundaes. That’s my kind of toast…yum.
These are all really approachable recipes that I could honestly imagine at a back yard cook-out.
I love New England Clam Chowder and if I could get Colin to shuck the clams for me I think I could actually manage it.
I wonder who drew the short straw and had to clean up after dinner? I’m guessing Valerie’s daughter…
I love, love, love guacamole so I was really interested to try the Guacamole Salad which seems to be a slightly healthier twist on a classic. This recipe consists almost entirely of chopping produce, so if you can dice bell peppers and rinse black beans you’ll be in good shape.
I’m kind of fussy when it comes to prepping vegetables and in this case I focused on keeping the major components (i.e. the tomatoes, peppers, avocado) medium-diced and what I consider the ‘flavoring’ ingredients (red onion, garlic, jalapeño) minced quite small. Biting into a giant chunk of any of those ingredients is not my favorite.
I was looking for a moderate spice, not a blast of hot jalapeño, so I also de-seeded. Depending on your preferences I’d adjust the size/seeds/amount accordingly. I'd also suggest adding some chopped fresh cilantro if you’re sure everyone likes it (I do.)
Small Kitchen Friendly?
Yes, definitely. I used a medium bowl to mix together the vegetables, a medium sieve for draining and rinsing the black beans, a medium cutting board, a chef’s knife, a small paring knife, and a large spoon for tossing the ingredients together.
For the dressing you’ll need a liquid measuring cup, microplane grater, and measuring spoons.
I made Guacamole Salad to bring as a side dish to a cookout we were attending in Connecticut. I wanted something fresh, a little unusual, and portable since we were taking the train out to the suburbs – this absolutely fits the bill for all three.
One note of caution: this salad isn’t the best choice if it’s going to sit on a buffet table for very long. Definitely wait until the last possible second before serving to add the diced avocado, otherwise it begins to turn brown and slightly disintegrate in the dressing (not very appealing.) I brought whole avocados with me and borrowed a knife to prepare them before we ate.
However, the flavors are bright with a nice balance of acidity from the lime juice, and spice from the jalapeño and cayenne. I’d definitely make this again as an accompaniment to burgers or serve as a dip with tortilla chips.