Welcome to the first official Ina In A Year weekly update! It has taken me a little while to get my feet underneath me, to learn the rhythm of assimilating all of this cooking into my weekly routine, and to finally figure out what I want to write and share.
The good news? I have a lot to write and share. In fact, I can already see the potential for ongoing content that will come as a result of this project, long after the year is finished. My goal for these weekly update posts is to share with you a summary of how the week went, to list the recipes I cooked (including the cookbook in which they can be found), and to highlight anything notable that I learned along the way.
Choose your own adventure, and read as much or as little as you like. Let’s dive in!
Week One brought fatigue and two relatively major failures. Even though I own a bakery, it has been a long time since I have spent my days cooking. Suffice it to say, this week was a tough reentry to the grueling physicality that standing and cooking all day can require. This may sound silly, but there are certain muscles that you use when you cook, and mine were found quite atrophied. I powered through, knowing from past experience, that my body would adjust and reinvent itself in order to meet the challenge. But it was not without a lot of Advil and early bedtimes.
This week also reminded me how important it is to be realistic when mapping out a prep schedule. It can be easy to oversimplify kitchen tasks when glancing at a recipe. I quickly remembered that there are essentially three steps to most recipes. There is the preparing of the ingredients (chopping onion, chopping garlic, cubing bread), the execution of the steps (sweating the onion, adding the garlic, combining it with the bread), and then the finishing of the dish before you serve it (baking the finished casserole). To underestimate the time involved in each step is to find yourself flustered and frustrated, not to mention out of time. This was me on Tuesday as I was preparing the menu for the Ina Lunch the next day. I had not allowed enough time for the prescribed tasks, and the experience was a hasty reminder to be more realistic with how much time I need for each step. Once I adjusted my expectations over the remainder of the week, I found my groove and was able to settle in and enjoy the process.
Then, there was the ice cream that never froze coupled with the burnt honey-less Honey Vanilla Pound Cake. It was a saga that brought a community of supporters and problem-solvers out of the social media woodwork to offer solutions. At the end of the day, I am convinced the error had to do with my treatment of the ice cream maker, and I do intend to give it another shot. As for the pound cake, not only was it burnt, but I also forgot to include the honey in the batter. I was reminded how vitally important it is to set a timer for everything, particularly when juggling multiple recipes as once, and to pay attention when baking. These details are easy to overlook when distracted, and I was frustrated at myself for the error, mostly because I really wanted to taste a honey-infused slice of perfectly baked pound cake. No worries, though. I cut off the burnt edges of the pound cake and repurposed it as a make-shift dessert, and no one suffered. It was trying, but a valuable experience.
On the whole, the week was wonderful. I was thoroughly excited to finally get my hands dirty and do some actual cooking. Nothing disappointed. Everything I made surpassed my expectations. And I loved beginning to connect and share the process with those of you who follow me on Instagram. Scroll through below for a list of all the recipes!
WHAT I COOKED
Honey Vanilla Pound Cake, Back to Basics
Butternut Squash and Ricotta Bruschetta, Cooking for Jeffrey
Herbed Pork Tenderloin, Make It Ahead
Apple Chutney, Make It Ahead
Leek and Artichoke Bread Pudding, Make It Ahead
Braised Red Cabbage with Pancetta, Make It Ahead
Caramel Chocolate Nut Ice Cream, Parties
Smoked Salmon and Egg Salad Tartines, At Home
Blueberry Streusel Muffins, Back to Basics
WHAT I LEARNED
HOMEMADE CHICKEN STOCK.
Ina is known for always suggesting (though never insisting) the use of homemade chicken stock. I have make homemade chicken stock before, but it is never my go to. Why bother? Who has the time? I hear you. And yet, this experience, which was the first recipe I made on the first day of the project, set a tone and has become a echoing theme in my experience so far. The trouble of doing something wonderful is oftentimes the point. The huge pot of chicken, herbs, vegetables, spices began to simmer, and the aroma was intoxicating. I stood over the pot and breathed in. I do not believe that food can make a person whole or happy. But I do believe the beauty found in the sensory experience involved in preparing and eating delicious food can be a pleasurable experience that warms the heart and builds connections. A pot of chicken stock is a beautiful example of this truth. Comforting. Earthy. Substantial. I felt in touch with something foundational or even primal within myself while it bubbled away. Though never mandatory as an ingredient, the act itself of making the stock becomes the desired outcome, even more so than the five quarts of liquid gold that it yields. I challenge you to find an enormous pot, buy the ingredients, and see how you feel embarking on an afternoon of creating something so basic, yet so beautiful.
BRAISED RED CABBAGE.
When I planned this menu, the Braised Red Cabbage was a reluctant addition that honestly, if I had not been executing this project, I would have skipped. The photo was beautiful, but I felt very lukewarm about the whole prospect of braising cabbage. I also was doubtful after the groceries arrived, that one batch made from one head of purple cabbage would be enough for our eight lunch guests. Had it not been for the disaster of the ice cream and the pound cake and the general malaise of fatigue I was working through, I probably would have decided to double this recipe…and then found myself with enough cabbage to feed a small army for the entire winter. I have never been more happy to be so mistaken about a recipe. This side dish was not only the distinguished hit of this menu, but it also made enough to feed twelve or fourteen people as a side dish. I found satisfaction in watching the cabbage simmer away, only becoming more flavorful and tender, as I tended to other matters. The color is spectacular, a vibrant jewel-toned mix of cranberry and deep purple. It adds a pop of visual appeal to the plate, and an unexpected brightness to the menu.
CARAMELIZED BUTTERNUT SQUASH.
I included this as part of the staff lunch menu, which centered around the Roasted Salmon Tacos. I would not normally pair butternut squash with salmon tacos, but one of the funny things about this project is sometimes you need to “burn” a recipe, so you stick it wherever you can. This was the case. Most of Ina’s recipes for roasted vegetables (and there are quite a few of this variety) revolve around chopping the vegetable, tossing it with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and then roasting until browned. This one, however, is different. It uses butter, not olive oil, and there is a touch of brown sugar added along with the salt and pepper. The finished dish is not to be missed. The butter adds a noticeable richness that differs from the usual mouth feel of olive oil. And the brown sugar is there only to wake up the natural sweetness of the squash, not turn it into candy. This is what Ina does best. She knows how to add an element to a recipe that will enhance the main ingredient without drawing attention to the element itself. The natural sweetness of the squash is enhanced by the addition of the brown sugar, balanced by the Kosher salt, and the finished dish is savory, satisfying, and not at all candied or cloying. It is perfection.
There is so much more to say, more notes to share, but I am going to end here. I would love for this to be a starting point for more questions and conversations. If you have a question about any of these recipes, please ask!! I am happy to tell you my thoughts based on my experience!
Let me know what you would like to know….