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: “Cocktails and Cookies”
The Set-up: Ina and her friends are shaking up cocktails and baking up cookies today.
0:44 – We’re chilling with Rob Marshall and John DeLuca again (remember them from this episode?)
1:17 – While the guys are out on the beach walking their dog Gilly, Ina is whipping up some Breakfast Ricotta with Berries & Maple Syrup.
2:23 – Ina prepped the ricotta ahead of time since it needs a little while to strain, but we get a re-cap of the process.
3:08 – She’s really not messing around with this breakfast, the ricotta gets a topping of maple syrup toasted almonds, fresh berries, and a slice of brioche.
4:31 – While Ina plates the ricotta she clues us in on how cool and successful Rob and John are – their movies include Chicago, Nine, and Into the Woods.
5:44 – Breakfast is served while they scheme their plans for the rest of the day – one of which involves a wicker picnic hamper full of boozy cocktail ingredients. Well played, guys.
8:12 – Time for the cookie part of the show and it turns out that the “cookies” are actually special Whole Wheat & Peanut Butter Dog Biscuits for Gilly. One lucky dog to be sure.
9:25 – Aaannd, here’s why I love Ina. Her favorite descriptor for a messy plate is a ‘dog’s breakfast’ and now she jokes they’re “finally making [one].”
10:40 – Ina takes even dog biscuits seriously and these were overwhelmingly selected by dogs the clear winner in a blind taste test vs. boxed cookies. I guess I should make some for Maddie soon…?
11:37 – Uh-oh, the guys’ dough looks better than Ina’s and she’s getting competitive. Do not try to joke her down on her own show!
12:49 – A pause in the action for a moment to clean up, and I suspect they may have taken a nip of the cocktails already because this is an epic mess and they’re giggling like 14 year old girls. Yeah, I’m jealous too.
13:11 – Seriously, they’re sword-fighting with the rolling pins now. Who else thinks a food fight is about to break out?
14:06 Ina is too crafty, she’s cutting the dough out in bone shapes, egg washing them, and sprinkling the tops with oatmeal.
18:22 – Onward to cookies for human beings in the form of Jalapeno Cheddar Crackers and they actually are almost the same process as the biscuits.
19:50 – Ina explains to Rob and John that jalapeño peppers are very hot, especially if you leave in the seeds and ribs/membranes.
20:43 – John reveals an aptitude for rolling dough into logs and it’s jokingly suggested that he may have been a bread baker in an earlier career.
21:15 – A little Knife Skills 101: saw the blade back and forth to let the edge do the work, rather than just pressing straight down.
22:57 – Prepare yourself for the most adorable taste test ever as Gilly gets a first bite of her dog cookies.
23:14 – Now there are treats for the humans as the crackers come out of the oven They really do look crunchy and golden, mmmm.
26:26 – The booze hamper has been unpacked and Step 1 of Blood Orange Cosmopolitans is to “measure 2 cups of vodka, and you’re done!”
27:43 – Followed by another cup of Cointreau, and after that just 2 cups of blood orange juice and 1/2 cup lime juice. Which means someone is going to nap under a table later.
28:35 – Next Rob whips out the most massive cocktail shaker I’ve ever seen, which Ina immediately claims as the perfect size for the number of cocktails she needs. I bet that thing holds 2 liters, easily.
29:49 – The blood orange cosmos are a gorgeous color, like a Lilly Pulitzer pink went clubbing in neon. It’s 5 o’clock somewhere….
Maddie rarely benefits from my cooking efforts, perhaps a little love of the home-baked variety is in order?
I love the idea of making a pitcher of drinks ahead of time just shake with ice and no need to measure them out one at a time. Brilliant!
Don’t try to tell me that there was no off-camera sampling of those cosmos.
I’ve made a savory version of Ina’s homemade ricotta cheese before, but I was intrigued by the idea of having a sweeter Breakfast Ricotta with Berries & Maple Syrup version for a morning meal. I also couldn’t resist the lure of almonds candied with maple syrup, especially maple syrup crafted by Merle Maple Farms (a company that's been run by family members on my mom's side for more than a century) and so here we are.
Ricotta Cooking – This seems intimidating until you’ve done it a time or two. I’d recommend using a larger pot than you think you’ll need. The milk/cream mixture needs room to bubble up, giving it space to do so means it won’t be all over your stove. Second, milk goes from zero to sixty when it’s coming to a boil, so watch like a hawk as soon as you see the first small bubbles form. Third, after the vinegar is added the mixture does look pretty terrifying, but trust the process – it works!
Ricotta Straining – I’d highly recommend setting-up the cheese cloth, sieve, and straining bowl before you start. Again, use a larger set than you think you’ll need – it’s far better to have extra space.
Maple Syrup & Almonds – As with the boiling milk, the almonds bear watching while they’re toasting in the pan. Mine turned golden brown after about 3 minutes. Something else to note: the maple syrup bubbles up quite a bit when it hits the hot pan (I used the Grade A Medium Amber in case you're curious), not to overflowing but more than I expected!
Small Kitchen Friendly?
Yes, especially because this recipe comes together in stages. For the ricotta I used a large sauce pan (4 quart), large fine-mesh sieve, liquid measuring cup, rubber spatula, large bowl, and cheese cloth. To make the toppings and finish seasoning the ricotta I used a small sauté pan, large bowl, measuring spoons, a small cutting board and a paring knife.
For me, Breakfast Ricotta with Berries & Maple Syrup walks that line between sweet but not too sweet perfectly. The honey and vanilla push the ricotta toward mascarpone in flavor – slightly sweet, but still a hint of mild, creamy cheese – an excellent back drop for bright berries. The true revelation though: those toasty, nutty, rich maple almonds. OMG. Borderline an ice cream topping, but in small doses they’re the perfect note of indulgence. I naturally gravitate toward anything you’d typically put syrup on, but if you’re more of an omelet person like Mike, I’d skip this one.