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: “Home Comforts”
The Set-up: Jeffrey is due home for the weekend and he’s in luck - Ina has a whole menu of great treats cooked up for him.
0:43 – Ina thinks (correctly) that mac & cheese is high on everyone’s list of comfort foods and has decided to make it even more awesome via the addition of blue cheese and bacon to make a Grown-up version. Twist my arm.
1:10 – Pro Tip #1: cook strips of bacon on a rack over a baking sheet in the oven (400 degrees) rather than on the stove to prevent splattering.
2:01 – For the base of the cheese sauce Ina is making a roux, which is essentially butter + flour + whisked in hot milk.
3:36 – As Ina grates the cheese – Gruyere and cheddar to start – she tells us that she’ll also crumble in some Roquefort “for a nice piquant” flavor. I don’t know why but her little French accented em-phasis on that word is cracking me up.
3:55 – Pro Tip #2: Stir the cheeses to the roux while it’s off the heat. She only mentions this in passing, but this is an important one because it keeps the cheese sauce nice and smooth.
4:22 – The bacon is out of the oven and has been added to the cheese sauce. I really need to add this recipe to my list of dinners to make, Mike would probably love this.
5:49 – The Grown-up Mac & Cheese can be made ahead of time and baked before serving. I now have zero reason not to make this except maybe my waistline…
6:14 – On to the Lemon Curd Tart, which starts with a shortbread-esque crust instead of a traditional pastry. This is good news for pastry-phobes like me.
7:28 – Pro Tip #3: for a smooth edge, use the bottom of a measuring cup to press the dough into the tart pan.
10:07 – The tart shell has finished chilling and now Ina explains the technique of “blind baking.” I’ve seen her do this a ton, but I’m still fascinated by the process.
11:34 – We have a brief garden interlude to cut some enormous (and totally perfect) dahlias for a flower arrangement.
12:11 – Stage 1 of the tart shell process is finished and the dried beans Ina uses as pie weights have been returned to their pantry container. I feel a little sorry for those beans always being baked and re-baked, but it hasn’t stopped me from having some of my own. #heartless
12:44 – Ina mentions that Jeffrey is on his way home which reminds me, we usually see more of him in an episode – why no check in with Mr. Garten? It also reminds me of this hilarious post from The Hairpin.
13:08 – The lemon curd is underway and I’m surprised to see Ina using a peeler to take off the zest of the lemons instead of her trusty microplane grater. Maybe four lemons are too many to zest that way?
14:16 – Ina cautions us that there is no substitute for freshly squeezed lemon juice and “not to even think about using the stuff in the bottle.” Consider yourself warned; Ina will totally know if your thoughts stray toward the temptation of pre-squeezed citrus.
15:25 – The mixture Ina poured from the mixer into the pan was gloppy and unappetizing, but cooking it for a little bit it turned smooth and thick. Lemon curd is probably magic.
19:39 – Now that tomorrow’s dinner is done Ina changes gears to make Mussels in White Wine for tonight.
20:02 – Pro Tip #4: Soaking the mussels in water with a little flour will help rinse them of any sand.
21:17 – The sauce for this reminds me of the first time I tried mussels in a small restaurant called Hungry Mother in Cambridge, Mass. and I’ve been a convert ever since.
22:23 – Jeffrey, you’re alive! Ahh, I mean – Mr. Garten makes his first appearance proving that he is not a ghost. Ina greets him with smooches confirming for me that they are just too sweet. Sigh.
23:44 – Mussels are served with the requisite chunks of crusty French baguette. Seriously, do not skimp on “the bread for sopping” as it is called in the Messersmith household. This is not a time to count carbs!
26:16 – Montage of Sag Harbor adventures, lots of giggling, Ina wrapped in a red scarf. Jeffrey is dubious about her ability to pull off a dinner with no prep time. Little does he know…
28:51 – This is actually a brilliant plan – while the Mac & Cheese bakes Ina whips up a Green Salad with Creamy Mustard Vinaigrette and smooths the lemon curd into the tart shell. Done and Done.
29:49 – Jeffrey teases Ina a little about spilling the proverbial beans (pun totally intended on my part) on her domestic goddess secrets and we wrap up with a toast to fun “weekends together.”
I really can’t highlight Pro Tip #2 enough – I once added the cheese over the heat and my sauce turned out horribly gritty. Not a mistake I intend to repeat!
I absolutely love Lemon Curd and now I have to try making this tart.
Ina should definitely keep her domestic goddess secrets – preserve the mystery a little.
I’ve baked exactly one tart shell in my life for a savory pumpkin recipe that went fairly wrong and I’ve never made a curd of any kind, so I was a bit nervous about making a Lemon Curd Tart.
The shortbread crust is not at all dissimilar to baking Christmas cookies and the step-by-step instructions on blind baking while kind of ‘fussy’ aren’t necessarily difficult. The lemon curd steps are also not difficult, but the stage between mixing and cooking does look disturbing – it’s important to trust the process because it does turn out beautifully smooth and lemony.
One item to note: my oven continues to be a challenge, so my tart shell needed a few extra minutes, but instead of checking carefully under the foil I just yanked the whole piece off taking a bit of the edge with it. Don’t be me! If the foil is sticking a little then put it back in and check again in 2-3 minutes.
Small Kitchen Friendly?
Yes, surprisingly. I used my stand mixer, but a hand held would work fine too. I also used a 9” false bottom tart pan (would recommend a 10”), medium sauce pan, a medium bowl (dry ingredients), and a small bowl (eggs). For tools I used a rubber spatula, dry & liquid measuring cups and spoons, and a microplane grater instead of the food processor step in the recipe. Lastly, I also used a small package of dried beans as my pie weights.
My mother-in-law, Lucy, loves lemon so I brought the Lemon Curd Tart out to Pennsylvania for a family dinner giving it the scrutiny of about 10 taste-testers all of whom were very pleased with the results. The curd is quite lemony and the crust turns out firm and buttery – lovely.
I, personally, could go with a bit more lemon flavor (but I love strong flavors) and Mike thought perhaps having it chilled a bit, rather than serving at room temperature, would be nice on a hot day. Both of these slight changes are really just us being uber finicky about a recipe that’s pretty perfect. I’m dying for an excuse to make Lemon Curd Tart again – hint: invite me to dinner!