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: “Housewarming Party”
The Set-up: Ina’s friend Valerie moved into the neighborhood, so Ina is bringing her an entire dinner to celebrate the new house.
0:29 – Before we even start with the cooking can I be the first to say: this is major dinner – five (!) recipes all for a housewarming party? Whoa.
1:10 – Now that I have that out of my system we can get on with the Loin of Pork with Green Peppercorns.
2:34 – In keeping with our theme of making a Major Dinner, Ina is using a bone-in pork rib roast, frenched and all. Not sure that my local grocery store stocks such a thing….
3:27 – Now for the rub/marinade which involves whole grain and Dijon mustard along with freshly ground fennel seed. Yum!
5:44 – I loooove all the delicate little pastries I mentioned above, so trust that I am watching this process like a hawk.
7:32 – Dang. I knew there had to be a catch: piping bag and accompanying skills required!
10:45 – Now for dessert: Apple Cake “Tatin” which involves making caramel – yikes!
11:20 – I notice that Ina cut the apple slices in really thick wedges – I assume that pouring hot caramel over them does a lot of the cooking?
12:53 – Cakes that incorporate sour cream (or in my case, greek yogurt) are the best – so moist!
13:29 – Valerie has arrived to collect the Cheese Puffs and get instructions on re-heating. She seems to live directly next door to Ina – guess who I’d borrow a cup of sugar from…
14:21 – The Herbed New Potatoes go into a dutch oven to cook themselves with just a little butter – this is a technique I need to try.
19:14 – Time to turn the Apple Cake Tatin out of its pan and I swear this is one of the most stressful things about baking. Bundt cakes half stuck in the pan is my nightmare.
19:22 – Spoiler alert: Ina’s comes out just fine. We also check-in with Valerie talking to herself about the good fortune of having Ina next-door, but do I detect a dash of haterade in her words?
20:47 – Our main course - Loin of Pork with Green Peppercorns – is out of the oven and on cue registers exactly 140 degrees. Good job, pork.
21:03 – Now to make the sauce with the green peppercorns. A little research tells me that they are unripe version of what becomes black peppercorns preserved in a brine.
23:18 – Back over to Valerie and the Cheese Puffs and she’s using her best scheming villain voice, and plotting how many she can eat before the guests arrive. “Divine, just diviiiine” like they’re stolen jewels. Not that I can relate or anything.
24:46 – Ina’s friend Frank arrives to cart dutch ovens around. I never noticed how tall he is before, but next to Ina he looks like a giant.
28:24 – Valerie is put in charge of passing the cheese puffs around while Ina plates dinner and we know she’s not to be trusted! An unusual misstep for Ina.
29:50 – Everyone sits down to eat and as Ina reveals the Apple Cake “Tatin” for dessert. Valerie gets to keep the leftovers, so I’m guessing those will be some small slices passed around…
I’m seriously tempted to try making choux pastry. Am I crazy?
Starting to feel like my lack of piping skills needs to be addressed. This is getting ridiculous.
I gave poor Valerie a hard time for coveting those cheese puffs, but who hasn’t been tempted to eat half of something before guests even arrive and pretend that's all you made?
I pretty much can’t believe that I’ve never attempted anything like an Apple Tart Tatin or in this case Apple Cake “Tatin”. This oversight can probably be blamed on the “caramel-factor” which loosely translates to my fear of anything that requires molten sugar and/or a candy thermometer.
Caramel – This was nerve-racking, but ultimately not too hard. If you’re nervous like I was use a big pot – it’s less intimidating some how. DON’T stir, just veeery gently swirl the water and sugar together. Lastly, this takes longer than you might think – about 5 minutes by my count. Once the caramel begins change from semi-opaque white to light gold keep a close watch – you’re shooting for something the color of honey.
Apple Placement – This probably sounds silly, but it took me a few tries to figure out how to fit the right number of apple slices in my pie dish, so I’d wait on buttering until you have a plan of attack. In my 9” pie plate 9 thick slices scalloped around the perimeter with the remaining 3 slices in the middle was just right.
Butter – A note on butter. The recipe says “generously” and I can’t emphasize enough: don’t skimp! I found that smearing a healthy 1 – 1 1/2 tablespoons with the empty butter wrapper was just about right. The cake, apples, and the accompanying caramel were released from the pie plate without too much trouble.
Releasing the Cake – Again, the recipe calls for the baked cake to cool for 15 minutes before turning it out onto a plate. I used the cover and flip technique and then let gravity do the rest. Here’s the thing: don’t wait too much past that 15 minute mark or the caramel will cool too much and you’ll be chipping it from the bottom.
Small Kitchen Friendly?
Kinda. I used a medium sauce pan, medium and small mixing bowls, hand-held electric mixer, and 9 inch pie plate. I also used a rubber spatula, medium cutting board, chef’s knife, peeler, microplane grater, measuring cups and spoons.
I made Apple Cake “Tatin” as dessert for a dinner party with friends and it seemed to be a hit, or at least they were too polite to say otherwise! Personally, I loooved it – the apples and caramel are the star, but the cake itself is really delicious too. It kind of reminds me of angelfood cake – totally different textures of course - there’s just enough lemon zest and vanilla to make it flavorful on it’s own, but still let the fruit shine. I will be making this again, for sure.