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: “What Are Friends For?”
The Set-up: Ina is helping a friend by preparing a house-warming dinner for her friend Greg.
0:41 – Ina agrees with what we’re all thinking: moving is the worst. But I’d consider it if it meant a meal prepared by the Barefoot Contessa.
1:16 – I’m going to pretend that she didn’t just hate on the “blue box.” Circle of Trust time. We can admit to each other that we’re occasionally tempted by it’s electric orange hue right…?
2:44 – We begin with the Mac and Cheese, which naturally means melted butter and a cream sauce.
3:32 – Forget what I said about the blue box; this Mac and Cheese is going to be off the hook. I think there’s about 4 pounds of Gruyere and cheddar involved.
4:50 – Pro Tip #1: Add the grated cheese to the cream sauce off the heat. I have messed this up so many times and had no idea that less heat was the key!
5:25 – Ina is using cavatappi instead of macaroni because it’s more festive for a party. The idea of certain pastas being more fun than others makes me laugh, but it’s so true!
6:17 – This mac and cheese is getting a topping of sliced tomatoes and toasted fresh breadcrumbs. To be honest, I’ve never understood the whole breadcrumb thing. Why do people love it so much?
10:33 – Shortcake time! These are Peach Raspberry Shortcakes and if I’ve learned anything from Ina it’s that you can revamp a recipe just by changing one ingredient.
11:38 – Pro Tip #2: Make sure that the butter is still visible in the dough to guarantee a light, flaky shortcake.
12:46 – Am I the only one who finds shortcake dough totally impossible to work with? It’s so sticky and unmanageable!
13:29 – Apparently not, Ina says she usually gets it all over the kitchen and herself. So, now I feel better.
14:15 – In case you were wondering; Ina does collect the scraps after the first round of cut-outs and makes a second pass. Looks like she’s using the second largest of these round fluted biscuit cutters.
15:40 – Shortcakes are in the oven and we catch up with Ina’s friend Alison who’s picking up the fruit and some salad makings for the party.
16:22 – Back to finish up prep on the Radishes with Butter & Salt. Ina says this is a classic sandwich given to French children, which sounds like an urban myth, but the Internet says it’s true.
17:11 – Pro Tip #3: The baguette slices will toast better if they’re placed on a rack.
20:04 – Ina plans to serve the radishes with a compound butter of scallions, dill, parsley, and a squeeze of lemon juice. Now we’re talking!
21:18 – Back over to Alison, who agreed to take on the arduous task of making the whipped cream for the shortcakes.
22:36 – Even though it’s incredibly simple, there’s something so satisfying about making whipped cream.
23:47 – A platter of radishes, a small heap of sea salt, and the buttered tartines is arranged and now it’s time to relocate over to Greg’s.
27:03 – The party is in full swing as Ina and Alison duck into the kitchen for the final prep. Either Alison has never assembled a shortcake before or for the purposes of the show a demo is required. I’m hoping for her sake it’s the latter...
28:39 – Ina mixes a simple vinaigrette, while Alison works on the shortcakes. I guess the demo worked because she managed to finish them off without incident.
29:53 – Dinner is served and Ina angles for an invitation to the next housewarming party. Somehow I think her presence will be required…
Please don’t let me forget Pro Tip #1. Weirdly grainy cheese sauce has to stop right now!
Please also help me remember that a whole recipe overhaul isn’t required to add variety – just a simple tweak will do!
I’ve noticed that every time a friend of Ina’s (F.O.I.) moves into a new house they get a dinner party. Anyone think that people are moving just for the food?
I know, I know. I’m supposed to be making pie, but in my defense the strategies for great shortcakes are closely aligned with making great pie crust. As I’ll demonstrate below, Peach Raspberry Shortcakes are a perfectly cromulent way of practicing…
Temperature – Cold ingredients, cold bowl, cold baking sheet, HOT oven. You may already know that the “fluffiness” of shortcakes depend on pockets of cold butter hitting a very hot oven and releasing steam. Occasionally Maddie’s walks interrupt work on a recipe leading to unintended, but successful experimentation. In this case, I was just about to add the cream/egg mixture when we had to head outside, so everything went into the fridge for 30 minutes including the baking sheet. I’d recommend this step anytime you have to pause or clear the decks before the next step, especially in hot weather like we’ve been experiencing lately.
Mixing Dough – I went super low-tech with this dough – no mixer, no food processor. I diced the butter on the smaller side (~1/8”) and tossed it in the dry ingredients to coat it before using the pastry cutter. I beat the heavy cream and eggs together in a liquid measuring cup and then used a fork to “fluff” them into the flour until just moistened. It kept the texture light and helped prevent over mixing.
Whipped Cream – I’d echo the “keep things cold” advice for this stage too. Pop the empty bowl and beater attachments in the freezer 20 minutes before you want to make the whipped cream, it will help the heavy cream retain the air and whip up more quickly into a lighter, softer cream.
Small Kitchen Friendly?
Surprisingly, yes! For the shortcakes I used a large mixing bowl, pastry cutter, biscuit cutter, liquid measuring cup, dry measuring cups and spoons, a butter knife, and a dinner fork. For the fruit and whipped cream I also needed a small cutting board, paring knife, medium mixing bowl, and electric hand-mixer.
When has a shortcake, especially a miniature one as fluffy and butter filled as these, ever been a bad choice? Would a generous layer of subtly sweet whipped cream and juicy summer fruit change your mind? If these facts don’t sway your decision then I’m not sure what will because these Peach Raspberry Shortcakes are just lightly sweet and so easy to make ahead of time. They're perfect to bring for a dinner party or a picnic in the park. Shortcakes with berries celebrate summer like nothing else, but there’s no reason not to eat them year-round paired with any fruit you can get your hands on. I’m already plotting a fall-ish version…