In Week Two, due to some calendar complications, I was slated to cook thirty recipes. If you’re thinking thirty recipes sounds like a lot for one week, you would be correct. I could have chosen to change it, deleted a few menus, pushed some recipes into another week, but I am really trying to avoid messing with the schedule this early in the process. I powered forward.
Timm went out of town at the beginning of the week, and I decided that would be a good time to cook a “kid food” menu with my younger children. As you would expect, even Ina’s food intended for children is exceptional. I have never in all my life tasted something as homey and comforting and perfectly suited for both adults and children as her Homemade Applesauce. On Sunday night, I warmed some up in a bowl, and ate it for dinner in my bed. I let the experience bring nourishment to me physically and rest to my weary spirit. It hit the spot.
At the end of the week, we hosted a dinner party for our small group. I loved cooking for our friends and having them in our home, around our table. In hospitality, the food is never the point, but it didn’t hurt that the food was outstanding. I followed Ina’s suggestion in the introduction to Blini with Smoked Salmon and fried up the little buckwheat pancakes while people arrived. They came into the kitchen to say hello, and I put a friend to work topping them with smoked salmon, creme freche, and a sprinkling of chives. I usually try not to prepare an appetizer that requires last minute attention, but this worked. Because everything else was made ahead, waiting in the oven, I was able to enjoy a glass of Prosecco, flip the pancakes, and talk with friends by the stove while we all nibbled away. This was a favorite moment for me from this week, and I cannot wait to repeat the experience in future dinner parties.
Thirty recipes in one week almost did me in. The grueling process and resulting emotional nose-dive prompted me to post a video on Instagram of me in my pajamas at 7:30 in the evening, bleary eyed, tired, confessing to the world how hard of a time I was having being kind to myself. I wanted to feel more in control. I wanted to be ahead, not behind. I wanted to someone to tell me I wasn’t a fool for signing up for this crazy endeavor. I loved hearing from some of you in response to that moment of vulnerability. The comments and support from those who are watching and reading was a source of motivation. Thank you for igniting the needed spark to keep me going when the going was not easy.
Somehow I managed to check each recipe off the list this week, but it was a challenge. My team made the process as easy as possible, all while making me laugh and reminding me how wonderful it is to share good food with people you love. Scroll through below for a list of all the recipes!
WHAT I COOKED
Coconut Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook
Warm Goat Cheese in Phyllo, Back to Basics
Lemon Chicken Breasts, How Easy Is That
Broccoli with Garlic, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook
Tuscan Roasted Potatoes and Lemon, Cooking for Jeffrey
Fresh Apple Spice Cake, Make It Ahead
Lentil Vegetable Soup, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook
Parmesan Croutons, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook
Blini with Smoked Salmon, Barefoot In Paris
Warm Fig and Arugula Salad, Make It Ahead
Herb Marinated Loin of Pork, Back to Basics
Roasted Pear and Apple Sauce, How Easy Is That
Roasted Brussels Sprouts, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook
Parmesan Fennel Gratin, Make It Ahead
Decadent (Gluten Free) Chocolate Cake, Make It Ahead
Apple Dried Cherry Turnovers, Back to Basics
The Perfect Cup of Coffee, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook
Roasted Asparagus with Scrambled Eggs, Parties
Make Ahead Salt and Pepper Biscuits, Make It Ahead
WHAT I LEARNED
COMPANY POT ROAST. This is the best pot roast recipe I know, and I have cooked this for years. That being said, you need to know one very important detail. The cooking time on the recipe does not yield a tender roast. It yields a sliceable, sharp-knife-required, chewy pot roast. If this is how you prefer your roast, then make it as written. I, however, prefer pot roast to be a fork-tender, falling apart, no-knife-required situation. I always add two hours to the cook time to get the texture I prefer. Other than this one detail, this recipe is perfect. My favorite way to prepare this roast is always a day in advance. The flavors meld into something even more mouthwatering than when it is fresh from the oven, and there is something wonderfully comforting about walking in the door, opening the fridge, grabbing a pot, and knowing dinner will be ready once it reheats gently on the stove.
RIGATONI WITH SAUSAGE AND FENNEL. There have been a few moments along the way that have stood out as miraculous and memorable. This pasta meal held one of those moments for me. Everything about Rigatoni with Sausage and Fennel is right and perfect. To quote my husband Timm, “I don’t ever want to eat pasta that isn’t this pasta.” To read the recipe, you would never guess it would be a stand out. I fixed this for staff lunch on a Friday, and we all agreed it was one of the best things we had ever eaten. If you make one thing from this project, this pasta recipe might be the one.
LEMON CHICKEN BREASTS. In the trove of chicken recipes that Ina has in her collection, it can be easy to glaze over this one and think, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. I get it. Chicken, olive oil, lemon. Same song, fourteenth verse.” Hold the phone. This formula works for a reason, and never has it been so obvious than with this seemingly basic version of baked chicken breasts. This was part of our Ina Lunch menu, and our guests were wowed. Behind the scenes, Treslyn was quietly nibbling on the leftovers, looked at me, and said, “I’m sort of having a moment right now with this chicken.” It’s true. Something happens in this recipe that transforms a few basic ingredients into something spectacular. In fact, I have tried this recipe on a variety of different cuts of chicken, even recycling the leftover sauce into yet another round of baked chicken, only to have the results fail me never. This would be an excellent recipe for a novice cook to try. And it would also make an incredibly thoughtful gift to take a family with a new baby or a new neighbor. This recipe is the essence of elevating the everyday into something worth savoring.
WARM GOAT CHEESE IN PHYLLO. If there were such thing as a truly difficult Ina recipe, this might be it. Not because of anything inherently challenging about the execution, but because working with phyllo dough is never easy. Phyllo is paper thin, dries out in a second, and requires a little (fine, a lot) of fussing over to get it to behave. If you know me, you know I tend not to be a fusser. But phyllo made me fuss. I did everything I know to do to ensure success. I had all of my supplies out (melted butter, pastry brush, damp towel, breadcrumbs, sheet tray, sliced goat cheese, pastry board), and my phyllo was fully defrosted. All signs pointed to success. As I began to work with the dough, carefully cutting and wrapping disks of goat cheese in layers of phyllo, the first couple turned out wonderfully. Then, things started to deteriorate (quite literally, as the phyllo dries out), and I became flustered. I hurried the process along, basically just sort of sloppily wrapping goat cheese in sheets the best I could, and I worried that half of my lunch guests would end up with perfect little packages of baked goat cheese, and the other half would have sad piles of messy dough bits and melted cheese. I was wrong. The one redeeming quality of phyllo dough is that no matter how it looks when it goes into the oven, it always looks beautiful when it comes out. It bakes up golden brown and flaky, and it adds an elegant (if not rustic, in my case) touch to the finished dish. No one was the wiser as to which bundles were perfectly executed and which were victims of a flustered finish. Maybe I don’t hate phyllo after all.
As usual, there are so many more things to share, but I will end for now. I would love to hear any questions you may have!