In Week Ten we hosted our first Ina Dinner. It was a lot like the Ina Lunch, only twice as many people, and more elegant. I loved it. A dinner party for sixteen people, with amazing food, table settings, and lots of lingering conversations is my dream scenario.
The menu included Prime Rib, which is also called Standing Rib Roast. It is a substantial, pricy, do-not-mess-this-up cut of meat. I was more nervous cooking this dish than I have been in a long time. I had nightmares about messing it up, over cooking it, and not having enough to go around. In the end, it was a success, and there is a reason this dish is saved for special occasions. The taste and texture are exquisitely full of flavor. It was the hit of the evening. I may never be able to afford making one of these again in my life, so I consider it a crowning accomplishment that it turned out exactly as I would have like it to. Thank you, Ina!
WHAT I COOKED
Cream of Wild Mushroom Soup, At Home
Roasted Pepper and Goat Cheese Sandwiches, At Home
Pecan Squares, Barefoot Contessa Cookbook
Spicy Hermit Bars, Cooking for Jeffrey
Maple Roasted Carrot Salad, Cooking for Jeffrey
Cornish Hens with Cornbread Stuffing, At Home
Asparagus with Hollandaise, Barefoot In Paris
Pear and Parsnip Gratin, Make It Ahead
Sticky Toffee Date Cake with Bourbon Glaze, Foolproof
Prosciutto Roasted Bass with Autumn Vegetables, Back to Basics
Tomato Rice Pilaf, Barefoot in Paris
French Onion Soup, Barefoot Contessa Cookbook
Warm Vacherin, Cooking for Jeffrey
Baked Virginia Ham, Barefoot Contessa Cookbook
Buttermilk Cheddar Biscuits, Back to Basics
Balsamic Roasted Beet Salad, Foolproof
Sunday Rib Roast, Family Style
Mustard Horseradish Sauce, Family Style
Stilton Sauce, Family Style
Herb and Apple Bread Pudding, Cooking for Jeffrey
French String Beans, Barefoot in Paris
Mashed Butternut Squash, Family Style
Rum Raisin Rice Pudding, Family Style
WHAT I LEARNED
CREAM OF WILD MUSHROOM SOUP. In much the same way that the French Mussel Bisque from Week Seven used the cooking liquid to flavor the soup, this recipe uses a thirty minute mushroom stock, made from the stems of the mushrooms, to build the foundation of this perfect mushroom soup. This dish came together in under an hour, and even though I was unable to find the specific mushrooms listed in the ingredients, I found it be spot on with whatever mix of mushrooms I found at the market. This yielded a modest six servings, so if you would like more servings or ample leftovers, double as needed.
MAPLE ROASTED CARROT SALAD. Amazing. The carrots alone are worth repeating, and they could stand alone as a delicious side dish on their own. The combination of flavors and textures really does make this a stand out salad. It is beautiful on the plate, with the deep carrot orange on a background of bright green arugula, studded with specks of white goat cheese and deep jewel-toned cranberries. I prepared all the components a bit ahead of when I served it. It was perfection, and I will definitely make this part of my seasonal salad rotation.
CORNISH HENS WITH CORNBREAD STUFFING. Stop the presses. We have a winner. This was, to date, the best thing I have cooked from this project. And, yes, I realized the heft of that statement. Cornish hens are my new favorite thing. To start with, they are quite inexpensive, averaging around $3.00 per hen. After a few days thawing in the fridge (don’t underestimate how long this takes), they require nothing more than salt and pepper, an ample brushing of butter, and one hour in the oven. That’s it. They emerge golden, tender, juicy, and perfect. But wait, it gets better. These little beauties are roasted on top of a bed of onions, which yields a gorgeous base of golden strands of melting onions swimming in the most delicious juices from the butter and roasting meat. And, as if that weren’t enough, each of these hens gets stuffed with the most basic of cornbread stuffings (which calls for store-bought cornbread and requires no cooking!). The sweet cornbread dressing, bathed in the juices of the bird, so perfectly balanced the salty meat, that we literally were all aghast at how superbly sublime these little unassuming hens turned out. We could not get enough. We stood around the baking sheet like vultures, picking the meat off of the bones, groaning with each bite, swearing it was our last, but then diving back in for another go. The delight of being served your own individual tiny chicken is special, unique, and not to be underrated. As it turns out, I (along with another staff member) served these for Christmas Dinner. They were too perfect, simple, inexpensive, and delicious not to. Still not convinced? Come over. I’m cooking Cornish Hens for dinner.
WARM VACHERIN. Do you like hot melting French cheese? Me too. I wish I had better news, but I might be about to break your heart. This was the best cheese I have ever eaten, and yet, it is not readily available where I live. I really thought we were going to have to get creative and air mail this from a cheese shop outside the USA, but then a cheese miracle happened. While on Thanksgiving break in Denver, Colorado, Treslyn wandered into a specialty cheese store and sent me a very excited text. “They have Vacherin!!! How many do you want?” At $50 a pop, she purchased a single, perfect, Vacherin Mont D’or, and she carefully brought it home to Hurley House. Talk about going above and beyond. We baked it according to the recipe, carefully slicing off its lid before putting it in the oven. It came out so perfectly gooey and with a bit of funk, but not too much. I saved a video of the process on my Instagram Stories. We had the best time gathering around and eating that cheese with sliced of toasty bread and tiny gherkin pickles to balance the richness. I want to eat this again in my life, and if that means traveling to Denver, then so be it.
BALSAMIC ROASTED BEET SALAD. Let’s talk about beets. I don’t like them. They taste like soil. Literally, like dirt in my mouth. I don’t get the appeal, and many people whom I respect have told me I just haven’t had the right beet experience. So, I’m open. And if anyone can change my mind, we all know Ina’s my one. I vow to continue to give it an open mind as I progress through all of her beet recipes, starting with this one. I have to say, this was not a bad first go. The beets were soft from the long roast, and I can see how a bright acidic vinaigrette really is necessary to bring them to life. I ate my beets and really worked on becoming better acquainted with them, even if they do taste like licking a shovel.
RUM RAISIN RICE PUDDING. Do you like rice pudding? If so, did you grow up eating it hot or cold? I have only ever had rice pudding as an adult, and only because of Ina. I like it cold. And this version is so great, if you like the flavors of rum raisin. It tastes like the best ice cream you’ve ever eaten, but in a pudding form, with little velvety soft grains fo the softest, creamiest rice you can imagine. I served this scooped into vintage cordial glasses, and it proved to be the perfect portion for a tasty, yet rich dessert.