Monday, August 01, 2005

Barefoot Contessa Love/Not-So-Much Love

Despite the trend in the Food Network towards the empty calories of Rachael Ray (4 shows!), I am still addicted to Food Network shows. My biggest addiction is to Barefoot Contessa. That show is my kryptonite. I should hate it, being all Martha Stewarty about how great Ina Garten’s life is, but I love that lady unabashedly. After all, her whole show is about her immaculate house, her fabulous (read gay men and their hags) friends, and her successful husband. She has this habit of making dishes using crazy expensive ingredients – i.e. loins of pork, filets of beef and “effortlessly” throws together bouquets of fresh flowers from her manicured garden.

Nevertheless I LOVE her.
Barefoot Contessa is like seeing a Williams Sonoma catalog as a TV show. And as pretentious as she is, I must admit, I WANT HER LIFE. I want her house. I want her kitchen. She can keep her husband. Her show is pure food porn and her recipes are spot on with great tips for home cooks. I’ve been learning these as I work through the stack of her books my partner (also from DC Food Blog) gave me for my birthday. Now I’ve made over ten of her recipes and they’ve all turned out beautifully.

Here’s one episode
Episode: Welcome Back Breakfast

We open with the fabulous house at night and Ina is telling us how her husband is coming home late after a long business trip and that she can’t make her usual roast chicken dinner. For avid Ina fans we also know that her husband spends the week in New Haven as the Dean of the Yale business school and comes home only on weekends. Anyway, since she can’t do the Friday night dinner, she decides to go all out on the next morning’s breakfast. And then she betrays her deep neurosis and insecurity about her ability to be an adequate wife by saying “if I don’t cook for him, I’m sure there’s someone else who will.” That’s so sad. Ina, Ina, Ina, he should love you whether cook for him or not.

Segue into her faboo kitchen where she is in the midst of making strawberry jam by simmering sugar and lemon. The natural pectin in the lemon will help the jam to gel. She hulls the strawberries, cuts them in half, and then dumps them into a pan with the sugar and lemon mixture which she sets to simmer. She gives her first piece of useless advice during this segment by admonishing the viewer to “always use strawberries that are fresh.” The recipe itself seems completely doable and the fact that you are not slaving away over a hot stove worry about melting powdered pectin and sterilizing jars is a big plus. GO INA!

We then move on to making the brioche with yeast, sugar, eggs, water and flour. I’m dying to make this recipe but this is a two day event. The dough needs to rise overnight. Another big complaint many people have about Barefoot Contessa is that it relies so much on a standing mixer. But luckily, I do have a standing mixer and I use it religiously.

She then gives us a useful piece of advice when she tells us a good way to see if jam has been heated enough is to put a spoonful on a cold plate and see if it gels. More brioche action with the standing mixer. After the commercial, she puts the brioche dough into a buttered bowl to rise overnight.

Ina goes back into insecure housewife mode where she know her husband Jeffrey was on the road all night and HAS to make him something comforting. Homemade hot chocolate is her comfort food of choice. In an artery-clogging move she heats whole milk AND half-and-half and throws in both dark chocolate and milk chocolate along with vanilla, coffee granules and sugar. Like all of her recipes, the hot chocolate is straightforward and easily replicable. Her gnome-like husband Jeffrey comes in and all of her viewers collectively wonder why she’s so desperate to please this guy. To his credit, Jeffrey is duly appreciative and they start their mildly suggestive banter about the hot chocolate and going to bed.

In the next scene, it’s morning and Ina walks into the kitchen with her cup of coffee. She throws the sticky dough back into the mixer and she adds butter. She then rolls it out and separates it into 20 little balls. Of course she has these fabulous little brioche pans for her loaves and we collectively sigh in envy.

This leads to the more annoying segment of her shows – the shopping segment. Of course it’s all designed to show how fabulous her life is in the Hamptons with little gourmet shops and farmers’ markets. She buys fruit for her fruit and yogurt parfaits.

Back to the house. She “fakes out” Jeffrey by telling him she’s gonna serve him dry toast and old coffee for breakfast and bids him to make a fire. While he’s making the fire Ina puts together the ingredients for her homemade granola with oats, coconut, and almonds tossed in honey and canola oil. This is such a rockstar recipe. I’ve made it. It’s delicious, simple, and easily modifiable. When I made it I omitted the almonds and replaced the honey with maple syrup. It turned out wonderfully

As the granola is baking she puts together the fruit for her parfaits and goes to the brioche where they have surprised her by rising. Ina, things with yeast rise.

Ina layers the fruit, granola, and yoghurt and marvels that her completed parfaits look like ice cream sundaes. When we come back from commercials she is putting peaches in a food processor to puree them for Bellinis. She puree the peaches with the skin on and then sieve the mixture to catch the peach skin. This another one of those wonderful tips that she gives that make sense and actually save time and effort in the kitchen. The Bellinis and the whole breakfast is assembled and served to Jeffrey.

Ina goes on and on about her ‘international” breakfast where the Bellinis were inspired by their trip to Venice. The brioche, from their trip to France and their parfaits from their trip to Belgium Fine Ina, you travel all over the world. Your life is fabulous. Damn you, DAMN YOU.

Jeffrey coos over the homemade jam and wonders if she made the plates and the silverware. I wouldn’t put that past her. They toast to their fabulous breakfast and we leave their gorgeously appointed Hampton country home duly impressed.

This won't be the last Barefoot Contessa recap. Hee hee.


JON said...

As with most shows on Food Network, I find wathing them with the mute on is the way to go. There are some exceptions, of course -- Alton Brown, and both of the Iron Chefs. My new favorite is Bourdain's new show on the Travel Channel. This week was Iceland. Next week is New Jersey...

Anonymous said...

Ina is a fabulous gourmet cook. She spares no expenses in whipping up her fabulous dishes.
What I really would like to see Ina come up with are some tastey dishes that are not caloric killers. How about it Ina? We are all watching our expanding waistlines.

Anonymous said...

Some say Elvis had the most compelling presence of any human who ever lived and I agree. Who's number two? INA is, that's who!!

She has serious credibility as a food guru in that she's nice and plump, as I would be if I were in Jeffrey's shoes.

I just love her!!

Anonymous said...

I've become a Food Network junkie even though I can barely cook a thing. I enjoy the different personalities - Ina, Rachael, Giada, Elton Brown, even Paula. If they were all the same it wouldn't be any fun! I don't like all the shows, but that's the way life is. Many of these people are very successful with their shows, cook books, etc. Enjoy watching and have fun!!

Anonymous said...

i love you ina

Tammy said...

I honestly think that Ina is wonderful and I Love her show. I only wish that the Food Network did not move her show on Sunday to such an early time. Her relationship with Jeffrey is also such a pleasure to watch. He reminds me of my fiance' Geoffrey; give him a cookie and he's happy.