Sagaponack Corn Pudding

Sagaponack Corn Pudding  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Sagaponack Corn Pudding | Image: Laura Messersmith

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: “Tex Mex Homecoming”

The Set-up: Jeffrey’s on his way home for the weekend and Ina has a Tex Mex themed dinner planned.

The Menu: Sagaponack Corn Pudding, Guacamole, Tequila Lime Chicken, Frozen Key Lime Pie

0:47 – It’s Friday night and Jeffrey is on his way home, but Ina says that instead of regular roast chicken she’s doing a Tex Mex twist. He’s not going to know what hit him!

1:20 – First up Guacamole and naturally Ina has the most perfect avocados. I rarely find any in our store that are ripe but still un-dented. Yes, I’m jealous.

2:08 – We’re on the same page when it comes to making guacamole chunky and not overly pureed, but I’m not in favor of hot sauce in guacamole. Why ruin that cool green with spice?

3:32 – Off to the liquor store for tequila – Jose Gold for the Tequila Lime Chicken and the shop keeper recommends Sauza for margaritas. Noted.

4:03 – I’m an Ina Super Fan so I can tell this is an old episode because we’re in her house still and they haven’t quite nailed the tone yet. A few weird asides about jalapeno “giving my chicken attitude!”

4:17 – Just checked the date – it’s from 2003 and must be one of the first episodes ever!

5:34 – Okay, let’s focus here. It’s Frozen Key Lime Pie time, which so far involves the graham cracker crust. Pro Tip #1: Use a measuring cup to press the crust into the pan evenly.

9:41 – While the crust bakes, we’ve moved on to the Sagaponack Corn Pudding. Ina says she tries to balance out the flavors in a menu, so with something spicy she decided to serve the creamy corn pudding.

10:56 - FYI – this recipe is inspired by a similar version by Ina’s friend at Loaves & Fishes located in, you guessed it: Sagaponack!

11:13 – The corn pudding has chopped fresh basil in it, and I’m with Ina – basil + corn is one of my favorite combinations.

12:22 – The pudding is in the oven and now we get a shot of Mr. Garten speeding along toward home.

13:50 – Back to make the filling for the Frozen Key Lime Pie. It contains sweetened condensed milk and I don’t think I’ve ever cooked with it before, but apparently helps the custard to set up with no cooking.

14:09 – Aww, Jeffrey has arrived and now it’s margarita o’clock, plus some Guacamole. Woot!

19:31 – Now on to the main event: Tequila Lime Chicken. I’ve actually made this before and it is spicy for sure – chili powder, jalapeno and garlic!

20:18 – This is more of a logistical, tv show question, but how is Ina marinating this in about 15 minutes when she says that a few hours or overnight is the best?

21:42 – No time to fret because we’re on to the now-frozen key lime pie for the decorating and attractiveness step. Pro Tip #2: Decorate with an ingredient, in this case: lime wedges.

23:04 – Fun Fact for the Super Fans: there’s a shot of the back yard pre-barn and it’s kinda weird seeing it totally empty.

24:37 – It seems that the jokes about Jeffrey being inept with grills go waay back; here we are teasing him about calling the fire department. Perhaps it’s deserved because he manages to light the bag of charcoal on fire while replenishing the coals…

26:48 – Grilling has begun with Jeffrey acting as sous chef while Ina sets the table for dinner with a bowl of limes as décor.

27:55 – The corn pudding is out of the oven, and Jeffrey manages to stick the landing with the chicken, so dinner appears to be coming together quite nicely!

28:10 – Time to sit down to dinner – cheers are offered to their combined efforts and then key lime pie.

29:29 – Jeffrey’s compliments go way back too – he tells Ina that it’s the best key lime pie she’s made yet! Aww.

Final Thoughts:
I’m 100% with Ina on balancing the flavors and spice in a meal – all one note is so wearing after awhile.

Ina has been making key lime pie for 30+ years and I have yet to attempt it. Maybe summer 2016 will be my year?

Watching reeeeally old episodes is simultaneously weird and fun. The beginnings are there and it’s cool to see how things have evolved.

Sagaponack Corn Pudding   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Sagaponack Corn Pudding | Image: Laura Messersmith

Lessons Learned:
Since fresh sweet corn is still available (just barely) I had to make Sagaponack Corn Pudding before autumn takes hold completely. I’ve only tried using a water bath to cook a pudding once before and I’d say it was only moderately successful – recipe mistake or user error, who’s to say? Thankfully this time had a much better outcome.

Corn – This would not be the time to use frozen or canned. For me, the fresh crunch of sweet corn cut from the cob is not something I’m interested in substituting. Make this now, while you still can!

Prep – Cutting the corn kernels directly into a high-sided bowl is so much neater and easier to contain them that way. Just stand the ear end-up in the bowl and cut vertically down each side. The bowl catches 90% and your kitchen doesn’t have little bits all over.

Individual Portions – Rather than make one large pudding, I wanted to make single servings. I followed the directions exactly up to the point of putting the mixture into the baking dish and used 7 oz oven safe ramekins instead. A half-size version of the recipe just filled 6 ramekins and the baking time was exactly the same – 40-45 minutes in a water bath.

Water Bath – I’d recommend testing your baking dish/water bath pan to make sure the dish will fit. Particularly if you’re filling ramekins, I’d recommend portioning them and getting them arranged the way you want in the pan before filling the remaining space with hot water. I boiled it in a tea kettle since my tap water isn’t the hottest.

Make Ahead – If oven space is limited you can make the corn pudding ahead of time and keep it warm for about an hour just by leaving the ramekins in the water bath and setting the entire contraption aside with foil over it. The individual portions also warm up beautifully in the microwave with a damp paper towel over the top, so by all means make a few extra…

Sagaponack Corn Pudding   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Sagaponack Corn Pudding | Image: Laura Messersmith

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Mostly… To prep I used a large sauté pan, medium mixing bowl, medium cutting board, chef’s knife, box grater, a liquid measuring cup, measuring spoons, a whisk and a rubber spatula. To cook, you’ll need either a large oven-safe casserole dish or approximately 10 ramekins and a pan large enough (I used a 9x13 pan) to contain the baking dish(es).

The Verdict:
Oh, good lord Sagaponack Corn Pudding is. so. good. The flavors are so beautifully complimentary and the results are deliciously creamy hovering somewhere in the neighborhood of mac and cheese, but with the lightness of a vegetable gratin. I made this recipe as a side with Ina’s Barbecue Chicken and while the chicken was delicious, I’m pretty sure the corn pudding stole the show. I personally prefer the individual portions; if for no other reason than that it’s easier to defend your territory from marauding eaters, made in a larger dish I’m pretty sure there will be a spirited discussion over who get the last spoonful!

Sagaponack Corn Pudding   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Sagaponack Corn Pudding | Image: Laura Messersmith

Israeli Couscous Salad with Cherries & Pistachios

Israeli Couscous with Cherries & Pistachios  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Israeli Couscous with Cherries & Pistachios | Image: Laura Messersmith

There’s been a lot of cooking lately, not that you could tell by the sporadic posts around these parts. The trouble with cooking is that a recipe that looks amazing on Pinterest turns out to be a dud. Case in point: the overly salty falafel I made earlier this week. Sometimes it’s me though, and I discover that fish tacos were never meant to be eaten like nachos. That there is a reason you don’t see them on menus, genius. Sigh.

All that is to say – there is quality control around here, it just means that when I hit a rough patch like I have the past few weeks I post less frequently than I’d like while I fiddle around getting things just right. My goal is only to share recipes I’d be proud to serve, or pass along to my friends, like this one here.

Israeli Couscous with Cherries & Pistachios   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Israeli Couscous with Cherries & Pistachios | Image: Laura Messersmith

This essentially a pasta salad made a little fancy with additions like crumbled goat cheese and toasted pistachios. It also offers a little bit of a departure from the classic vinaigrette or mayonnaise-based dressings by incorporating pomegranate molasses.

If you’re wondering where on earth you’ll get pomegranate molasses the way I did when I first saw it in the ingredient list, let me reassure you. It’s easy to make it yourself by simmering plain pomegranate juice with a little sugar and fresh lemon juice until it reduces and thickens. I actually did it a few weeks ago following this recipe from Fine Cooking and it works perfectly, I bet it would also work with plain cranberry juice too if pomegranate isn’t available.

Israeli Couscous with Cherries & Pistachios   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Israeli Couscous with Cherries & Pistachios | Image: Laura Messersmith

Israeli Couscous Salad with Cherries & Pistachios (serves 6-8 as a side)

Ingredients:
2 cups Israeli couscous (pearl pasta)
1/4 cup Pomegranate Molasses
2 1/2 teaspoons champagne vinegar
1/2 teaspoon raspberry vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon turbinado sugar (aka Sugar in the Raw)
2 cups dried cherries
1/2 cup toasted pistachios
1 1/2 cups, packed fresh parsley and mint leaves
2 ounces crumbled plain goat cheese
4 ounces fresh baby spinach leaves

Instructions:
In a medium sauce pan, bring two cups of salted water to a low boil, then add the couscous and simmer on medium heat for 5-7 minutes, or according to the package directions until al dente.

While the couscous is cooking, whisk together the pomegranate molasses, champagne vinegar, raspberry vinegar, olive oil, lemon juice, sugar and salt.

When the couscous is done, drain through a fine mesh sieve and place in a large mixing bowl. Pour the vinaigrette over while the pasta is still warm and stir together. Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, toast the pistachios in a dry skillet over low heat, chop the herbs and crumble the goat cheese. When the couscous is cooled to room temperature, stir in the prepped ingredients. Add the baby spinach just before serving.

Rewritten and adapted from Couscous Salad with Fresh Cherries by Ashley Rodriguez of Not Without Salt.

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Yes! I needed a medium sauce pan, mesh sieve, medium bowl, and a small sauté pan. A cutting board, chef’s knife, measuring spoons, a liquid measuring cup, and a large mixing spoon. That’s it!

The Verdict:
I made a few changes to the original to reflect our preferences, a slight softening of the vinegar bite with a touch of raw sugar. A sprinkle of toasted pistachios to continue the Middle Eastern flavors, a generous crumble of goat cheese to balance against the tart cherries, a handful or so of baby spinach to bring the dish more firmly into the realm of salad. All told, this is a great side to serve during the final grilling parties of the summer and is simple to whip up in just a few minutes. My kind of recipe!

Israeli Couscous with Cherries & Pistachios   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Israeli Couscous with Cherries & Pistachios | Image: Laura Messersmith

Tomatoes Roasted with Pesto

Tomatoes with Pesto  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Tomatoes with Pesto | Image: Laura Messersmith

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: “Italian Old and New”

The Set-up: Ina is taking inspiration from classic Italian flavors and new combinations.

The Menu: Tomatoes Roasted with Pesto, Antonia’s Pasta Alle Melenzana (Eggplant Pasta), Three Italian Desserts

0:33 – We start out in Ina’s walled kitchen garden where the tomatoes are as high as an elephant's eye, or something.

1:02 – She claims that the first time she planted tomatoes she over did it and ended up with about “200,000 tomatoes.” Probably only a slight exaggeration.

2:19 – Ina has also collected a big bunch of basil from the garden destined to become the pesto topping our Tomatoes Roasted with Pesto.

3:11 – Pro Tip #1: Place the tomato slices directly on the sheet pan so that they brown a bit when roasted.

4:24 – Pesto has been whirled around and during the basil picking process we get Pro Tip #2: to keep basil fresh and green in the refrigerator, wash and very thoroughly dry it. Then store in a plastic ziptop bag with a slightly damp paper towel.

5:38 – The tomatoes are out of the oven and now get a generous slather of pesto and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese before going back in the oven to toast up.

6:26 – OMG those look so flipping amazing I had to pause and go to the freezer to take out the pesto I made last month, you know just in case….

10:07 – Back in the kitchen with Antonia an O.G. Friend of Ina to make, you guessed it: Antonia’s Pasta Alle Melenzana (Eggplant Pasta)! You can tell Antonia is good people because she has already added butter to the sauce.

11:40 – I wonder how Ina and Antonia came to terms with their different cooking styles? Antonia seems a bit more laid back with the measuring than our girl.

12:15 – I can already tell that I won’t be making this – it requires blanching and peeling tomatoes. Also, the eggplant look mushy which I cannot abide. Sorry, Antonia!

13:49 – Oh dear, and it requires smooshing the peeled tomatoes through a sieve. This is why canned tomato puree exists! PS: also not terribly small kitchen friendly.

14:31 – This is interesting – Antonia uses two types of mozzarella, a firmer packaged version and a fresh version. The first type creates stringy stretchy-ness the second adds a lighter freshness.

18:04 – Onward to the Three Italian Desserts! Ina says she’s looking for inspiration for these desserts in the liquor store. I’ll just bet she is!

19:33 – The first dessert is a twist on affogato – vanilla ice cream “drowned” in espresso, this time with a shot of hazelnut liqueur (aka Frangelico) and topped with chocolate shavings and chopped hazelnuts.

20:16 – I am 100% on board with Ina’s use of the Nespresso machine for this purpose, A. those things are amazing, and B. this dessert could only be made better through a generous helping of Nutella.

21:48 – Dessert two is a piece of pound cake drizzled with Amaretto, topped with a scoop of vanilla swiss almond ice cream and toasted flaked almonds. Good Lord, I thought the first one was good but I might switch allegiances…

22:52 – As Ina admits, dessert three is more assembly than recipe and mainly involves dipping things in Vin Santo, a Tuscan dessert wine. What I want to know is where Ina found those adorable clementines with their leaves still attached!?

26:27 – Time for Ask Ina! Andrew asks for an Italian recipe that his lactose intolerant vegetarian girlfriend can eat (ie. no meat, no cheese.) Ina suggests an antipasto platter with roasted red pepper, artichoke hearts, or eggplant caponata. She also suggests a simple marinara sauce over spaghetti.

27:43 - Tracy needs help with her watery lasagna. (Eww.) Ina recommends starting with a very thick sauce and thick ricotta, but says she thinks the culprit is the noodles. She says she just soaks them in hot hot water before layering. I suppose this means they’re quite undercooked and then absorb liquid from the sauce?

28:39 – Mark is making his own Italian bread and ask how he can make it taste better? Ina says he needs to add more salt, but after the yeast has had a chance to activate since salt inhibits its growth.

29:51 – Denise is hoping for advice on preserving some of the peppers from her garden. Ina recommends roasting them in the oven and keeping them in the refrigerator covered in olive oil. She signs of with the charge to “think Italian!”

Final Thoughts:
Some day I'll have a garden and then the pesto will flow like wine!

Ina’s ability to present a dessert of biscotti and wine with flair is incredible.

What do you think the weirdest “Ask Ina” question has been?

Tomatoes with Pesto   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Tomatoes with Pesto | Image: Laura Messersmith

Lessons Learned:
I decided to make the Tomatoes Roasted with Pesto mainly because it sounded delicious, but also because I’ve never roasted a tomato and if Ina says it’s amazing then it’s definitely something I want to experience.

You might think it’s impossible to learn something from such a simple dish, but never underestimate my ability to muck something up.

Tomato Selection – Ina says in the episode not to use heirlooms because they’re too delicate to stand up to roasting. I’d like to add that choosing a reeeally big tomato is also not advisable due to structural integrity issues. Shoot for a medium sized tomato that will yield slices about 1-1 1/2 inches in diameter (that’s across for those who forgot their 10th grade geometry.)

Tomato Slicing – Again, this is so elementary but could use emphasizing: really do slice the tomatoes about 1/2 inch thick. It will seem like overkill, an excessive amount of tomato when each one only gives you 3-4 slices. However, you’ll thank me when after nearly 20 minutes in the oven your tomatoes haven’t cooked into nearly spreadable (but delicious!) softened rounds.

Pesto – I needed basil for another recipe earlier this summer and whipped up a small batch of Ina’s pesto with the remaining leaves which I then stashed in the freezer with layer of olive oil poured over the top. I really can’t recommend this enough – it’s awesome to have something gorgeously summery tucked away that can be defrosted and put into play.

Tomatoes with Pesto   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Tomatoes with Pesto | Image: Laura Messersmith

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Yes! Assuming you’re making the pesto now, you’ll need a medium sized food processor and measuring cups and spoons. For the tomatoes a medium cutting board, serrated utility knife, microplane zester, rimmed baking sheet, and metal spatula are all you’ll need.

The Verdict:
It shouldn’t have come as a surprise, but Mike and I were still blown away by how good the Tomatoes Roasted with Pesto were. Never underestimate Ina's ability to make something classic even better. As Mike pointed out this dish is so simple and unassuming but the results are awesome. Deeply tomato-y from the roasting with the garlic-y richness of the pesto and sprinkled Parmesan cheese this recipe has all the classic notes of pizza, with very little effort and no delivery. At room temperature it made a perfect first course on toast and could easily be an amazing, low-effort appetizer for guests.

Tomatoes with Pesto   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Tomatoes with Pesto | Image: Laura Messersmith

Couscous with Pine Nuts & Currants

Couscous with Pine Nuts & Currants  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Couscous with Pine Nuts & Currants | Image: Laura Messersmith

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: “Friends of Friends”

The Set-up: Ina and Michael the Florist TM are cooking dinner for some of his “foodie” friends.

The Menu: Roasted Striped Bass, Couscous with Pinenuts, Meringues Chantilly

0:39 – We’re diving right in with Meringues Chantilly and whipping egg whites with cream of tartar.

1:20 – Cream of Tartar sounds like something that belongs more on a seafood plate, but a quick search tells me it’s a stabilizer.

2:14 – Ina is so tricky - she’s tracing the rim of a glass on the back side of a sheet of parchment paper so that there’s a guide to follow when she pipes the meringues and they’re all the same size.

3:08 – Interesting! Pro Tip #1: Fold in (rather than beating) the last 1/2 cup of sugar to the whipped eggs whites for a more tender meringue.

4:51 – Ina advises us not to make meringues on a rainy day (damp air = chewy meringue), but that’s exactly when I’d want to tackle a project like this!

5:27 – Pro Tip #2: Pipe the meringues starting from the center of the circle and spiraling outward to the edge, then go over your outer ring again to make a shallow bowl. Genius.

6:03 – Over to Michael the Florist TM to see what he’s planning for the table. So far it’s an old-fashioned tin colander full of green grapes with some leaves tucked in, like that will fool us into thinking this took work.

7:16 - We’re back with Ina to make stewed berries for the meringues. When she started with just water I was confused, but I know my girl and she was soon in the pantry getting a bottle of framboise liqueur.

8:35 – To the fresh berry sauce Ina adds more un-cooked berries and sets everything aside to be assembled later as the meringues cool and crisp up in the oven.

11:44 – Roasted Striped Bass is the main course, but first let’s raise our suspicions that these “friends of friends” will be just the worst before backtracking and postulating that because they’re good cooks they’ll actually be cool.

12:01 – You know what? That’s fair. I bet there are Friends of Ina (FOI) who have a passel of people just dying to meet her and trying to wrangle dinner invitations all the time. You know I would if I had an FOI of my very own…

13:12 – Over to Michael the Florist TM again and I’d like to retract my earlier snide remark, because this is actually clever: he’s used little bud vases of each attendee’s favorite flower instead of place cards.

14:29 – Right. Let’s focus on the recipe, shall we? It involves sautéing onions, pancetta, and garlic with saffron, chopped tomatoes and white wine, along with Ina’s favorite Pernod.

15:57 – Hmm. I wonder how this is going to work? Ina has sea bass, mussels and shrimp all together in the roasting pan – but I’d think they would need different cooking times?

19:23 – I was hoping for a comment on the seafood cooking process, but it’s out of the oven already and we’re on to Couscous with Pinenuts.

20:51 – Ina says she loves to share the responsibilities of a party with friends, but it seems like she has the lion’s share of the effort!

21:06 – Is anyone else almost categorically unable to toast nuts without burning the first batch?

22:40 – Pro Tip #3: Fluff the couscous with a fork (no spoons!) to keep it light.

23:55 – A little montage of packing the stewed berries, couscous, striped bass, and meringues and she’s off!

26:09 – Ina has taken command of Michael the Florist TM’s kitchen and is whipping heavy cream and sprinkling chopped parsley like mad.

27:38 – The dreaded “foodie” friends have arrived and they all look like appropriately lipsticked suburban women. None of them appears to be carrying a stack of Ina’s cookbooks for her signature, which is a mistake if you ask me.

28:24 – Everyone finds their favorite flower “placecard” and the table really does look charming now that the candle are lit. In case you’re wondering there is a sunflower, pink peony, yellow calla lily, pansies, lily of the valley, pink roses, blue hydrangea and of course our girl’s orange tulips.

29:30 – Dinner appears to be a great success, but someone forgot to tell the friends never to bring chocolate cake when Ina has made meringues. Rookie mistake.

Final Thoughts:
I really need to attempt a meringue soon. No more egg white intimidation!

The idea of favorite flower place cards is pretty cute. I should know better than to question Michael the Florist TM.

How do people find that perfect pinkish nude shade of lipstick? If I ever do then I’ll know I’ve officially become a grown-up.

Couscous with Pine Nuts & Currants  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Couscous with Pine Nuts & Currants | Image: Laura Messersmith

Lessons Learned:
This recipe for Couscous with Pinenuts is dynamite, and the ingredient list is so simple I can’t believe I didn’t think of it myself. It’s not that I’ve never made couscous before, it’s that it has always come from a Near East box and I was never sure about how to achieve the same depth of flavor when starting from square one.

Shallots – The little allium that could. Their flavor is subtle and distinct – not as sharp as onion or scallions, more delicate than garlic – there’s no substitute that I’m aware of and a scant 3/4 cup sautéed in butter worked wonders managing to perfume an entire pot of couscous. Angels sing.

Chicken Stock – Never underestimate the power of replacing water with chicken stock (and a not insubstantial amount of butter) for amping up the flavor. Assuming you don’t have vegetarians coming for dinner I’d start doing this all the time with pilafs, stews, etc.

Currants – The addition of pine nuts was straightforward since many box versions of couscous contain them or toasted almonds, etc. However, the currants were a bit of a surprise, mainly because when I actually tasted them they were sweet; not tart as I expected them to be. A little research uncovered what is typically sold as a “dried currant” is actually a grape and therefore really just a tiny raisin, not the sharply flavored red berry you might occasionally see sold fresh. If you’re actually looking for tartness a cranberry or even cherry is probably a better bet.

Couscous with Pine Nuts & Currants  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Couscous with Pine Nuts & Currants | Image: Laura Messersmith

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Totally. All I needed was a 2 quart sauce pan (with lid!), a liquid measuring cup, dry measuring cups, a small cutting board, and a chef’s knife. A table fork to fluff it all together and you’re set!

The Verdict:
Is it odd to rhapsodize about a couscous recipe? If so, then get ready for an odd paragraph singing the praises of Couscous with Pinenuts. I love how easy it would be to switching out some of the additions maybe thyme instead of parsley, or chopped apricots in place of the “currants.” Yes, a boxed version is still slightly faster, but couscous is so quick to make that the extra five or six minutes of sautéing hardly makes a difference in total effort and the results are 100% worth it.

Couscous with Pine Nuts & Currants  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Couscous with Pine Nuts & Currants | Image: Laura Messersmith