Guess who had a birthday in Week Nineteen? The Barefoot Contessa, that’s who! Ina’s birthday is February 2, and I love pretending like we’re friends, and you know, her birthday is on my calendar because that’s what friends do. In reality, I looked it up at the beginning of the project because it seemed like the kind of date worth noting. Maybe my birthday is on her calendar too?
On Ina’s birthday, I celebrated with a group of sponsors by bringing the party to them. In-home dinner parties are one of my favorite things I get to do because cooking dinner is one of my favorite things to to. Plus, in this case, the host’s kitchen was so much swankier than mine, which is always fun.
I served Spiced Rub Pork Shoulder, with Maple Baked Beans, Sour Cream Cornbread, and a bright crunchy Winter Slaw. I love watching people’s expectations being exceeded. Ina’s food never fails to deliver in this regard. People assume the food is going to be good, but they typically aren’t prepared for how amazing it all tastes. Women usually are not apt to eat large portions, particularly with a menu like this one, but it gave me joy to watch everyone go back for seconds.
The evening was a delight. We sang “Happy Birthday” to Ina, blew out candles, and enjoyed a slice of Raspberry Cheesecake in her honor. Even though Ina wasn’t there with us, we celebrated like she was.
WHAT I COOKED
California BLT’s, At Home
Easy Provencal Lamb, How Easy Is That?
Couscous with Peas and Mint, Foolproof
Wild Mushroom and Farro Soup, Make It Ahead
Spanish Tapas Peppers, Make It Ahead
Slow Roasted Spiced Pork, Make It Ahead
Maple Baked Beans, At Home
Winter Slaw, Make It Ahead
Sour Cream Corn Bread, Make It Ahead
Raspberry Cheesecake, Family Style
Raspberry Sauce, Family Style
WHAT I LEARNED
This recipe has been one of my go-to favorites for years because of how quickly it comes together for a weeknight dinner, and yet how tasty and satisfying it is when each component is the highest quality. Bakery white bread, applewood smoked bacon, crisp lettuce, ripe tomatoes, and perfectly ripe avocado makes for an incredible sandwich, even if it is familiar. This recipe proves how cooking doesn’t have to be complicated to be delicious.
SLOW ROASTED FILET OF BEEF WITH BASIL PARMESAN MAYO.
This is my favorite way to cook a whole beef tenderloin because it sets me up for success. The low and slow method reduced the chance of overcooking the meat, and it is very low-stress and easy-to-monitor. I will never go back to the high oven method. This is perfection and the basil parmesan mayonnaise is to die for.
PROVENCAL TOMATO GRATIN.
Yet another example of a baked tomato dish that turns into a magical concoction with only the heat of the oven and the simplest smattering of ingredients. It tastes like it took a lot of time to prepare. In fact, it took fifteen minutes. There was not a crumb of this left on anyone’s plate.
WILD MUSHROOM AND FARRO SOUP.
This is the best mushroom soup I have ever eaten. With so many layers of flavors, built on each other with care and attention, how could it not be? The dried morels cost a whopping $300 per pound, and the portion for this soup rang up at around $10. They were worth every penny, and I cannot stress enough how everything in this soup was perfectly balanced and awe-inspiring.
SPICED ROASTED PORK SHOULDER.
This entire menu was a winner. I was able to serve twelve women (with seconds) from one roast. The rub is full of flavor, and it goes so perfectly with the beans, slaw, and cornbread. This is one of those dinner party menus that really takes away any last minutes stress because everything just hangs out until you’re ready to eat. Even the slaw gets tossed and then put back in the fridge for several hours. The cornbread is moist, sweet, and satisfying.