In Week Four, I felt fairly proud of myself. I was doing it. I was working the plan, cooking almost every day, producing delicious food, and serving it to people I loved. I was full of life and feeling invigorated by the process.
Week Four also happened to be the week where I lost my ability to do it all. Somewhere between staying on track with the Ina Project, running Hurley House, posting on social media, caring for our family, and writing weekly blog posts, something had to give. I decided to push pause on writing the weekly blog updates in real time.
I knew that my schedule would only continue to ramp up with the holidays on the horizon, so I continued cooking the recipes as planned and taking notes, with the intention of catching up on the writing at the end of December or early January.
So here I sit, on December 26, keeping this promise to myself, diving into a bit of an ocean of material to share with you. The notes I took and the photos help bring to my memory the details of each week, and I have missed sharing these posts. I look forward to catching up and continuing the story!
As an added feature, where possible I have linked the recipes below to trusted sources where they are available online in their original form. Happy cooking!
WHAT I COOKED
Straw and Hay with Gorgonzola, Foolproof
Crab Cakes with Remoulade Sauce, Barefoot Contessa Cookbook
Crunchy Iceberg Salad with Creamy Blue Cheese, Make It Ahead
Steakhouse Steaks, How Easy Is That?
Baked Polenta with Mushrooms and Blue Cheese, Make It Ahead
Coconut Cake, At Home
WHAT I LEARNED
STRAW AND HAY WITH GORGONZOLA. It is assumed if you decide to make this dish, that you enjoy Gorgonzola cheese. If that is the case, as it is for me, then this pasta dish is going to please your blue-cheese-loving heart. Wide tagliatelle noodles are covered in a gorgonzola cream sauce, laced with crunchy ribbons of crisp prosciutto, tossed with fresh green peas, and freshened up with a chiffonade of basil. It is, in my opinion, the perfect upscale pasta dish. There are a lot of flavors and elements happening in this dish, and while it is easy to prepare, the finished product is not simple. It requires nothing served with it on the side, due to the richness and complexity of flavors, and an argument could be made that even serving dessert would be too much. The recipe says it serves three to four servings, and I would say it easily serves four as written. I doubled this to feed my family, and it would have amply served eight adults. I found the most difficult part of this recipe to be abstaining from eating all of the crunchy ham bits before you add them back into the finished dish. Self-control required.
ACCIDENTAL TURKEY. If you cook only one of Ina’s turkeys, cook this one. It is my favorite. I served this at an Ina Lunch, and it was not until the turkey was in the oven that I started to do the math and had a bit of panic. The recipe calls for 45 minutes in the oven at 450 degrees followed by 60 minutes at 325 degrees, which yields a total cook time under two hours for a fourteen pound bird. When I roast a five-pound chicken it requires an hour and fifteen minutes, so how in the world would this bird be cooked in less than two hours? I came up with an emergency plan to feed my lunch guests something different, assuming the turkey would not be done in time, but when I took its internal temperature at the prescribed time, it was perfectly cooked. I don’t know how it worked, but it worked. In less than two hours, I had a beautiful, crisp-skinned, succulent turkey, ready for carving. This bird was also dry-brined, which as we all know, is my method of choice to ensure a well-seasoned bird.
COCONUT CAKE. I love this cake. It is one of the first Ina desserts I ever cooked, and it never fails. If you are a novice in the cake baking department, start here. Follow the recipe perfectly, and you will discover why homemade cake is a thing of beauty. The cake is light, moist, full of vanilla and almond. It smells like heaven, and it tastes equally wonderful. However, let’s have a little chat about cream cheese frosting. We all love the way it tastes, with it’s sweet tangy creaminess crowning certain cakes, primarily coconut or carrot. But it is not the easiest thing in the world to work with. Room temperature cream cheese (which is required) is runnier than room temperature butter. But if you add too much powdered sugar to help firm up the finished product, you lose the wonderfully sophisticated tang and subtleness that defines cream cheese frosting. As written, this recipe will yield a perfect tasting cream cheese frosting, but know that it will not yield a stiff frosting which is required to make cakes look picture perfect. The easy answer is to do your best and cover the whole thing in shredded coconut so no one even notices. But if you are looking to build a beautiful layer cake using cream cheese frosting, you are going to have to find a different recipe. Or maybe I need to write one.
CHICKEN WITH FORTY CLOVES OF GARLIC. The first line of this recipe in which I am told to butcher a chicken into eight pieces killed me. I hate butchering chicken. I want my butcher to butcher my chicken. It is tedious and messy and not at all how I want to spend my time in the kitchen. I did not do a very good job of hiding my frustration whilst I battled the fowl with my knife and bare hands. Once that part was done, this recipe is quite nice. Having made this several times in the past, I knew what to expect, and I knew that like most braised meat dishes, this only improves with time. It is the perfect candidate for a make-ahead dinner. The chicken is buttery and soft, swimming is a fragrant sauce which is almost sweet from all the garlic that has been transformed with time and heat. As I was preparing this, I found myself inspired to one day create a version of this recipe that uses only dark meat and captures the essence of this meal without the bother of butchering a bird or the ill-suited white meat. Stay tuned.
SKILLET BROWNIES. Funny story. We ordered individual cast iron skillets in which to bake the Skillet Brownies (as noted in the recipe) which I intended to serve at a staff dinner in my home. The skillets arrived that morning, but instead of being the right size, they were extra tiny, and proved not at all what we needed for the job. Without the correct size pan, I soldiered forward and decided to triple this recipe, intended for four people, and to bake the entire batter in my 10-inch cast iron skillet. It was the hit of the evening. I scooped out an entire quart of Haggan Daaz Vanilla Ice Cream on top of the warm crackly brownie, still gooey in the center, and I took it to the table with a jar full of spoons. We gathered around and dove in. Moans ensued, and in an embarrassingly short amount of time, there was not a crumb left. We all agreed this was one of the finer moments of the Ina project, and a dessert we could not wait to replicate. This brownie recipe really is the gold standard, no matter what size pan you choose to use.
STEAKHOUSE STEAKS WITH CHIVE ROQUEFORT SAUCE. Goodness gracious, these are perfection. Notes for next time include learning that ten ounces of meat is way too much per person, making these steaks large enough to share. But the outer crust, speckled with coarsely cracked black pepper, paired with the meltingly soft medium rare inside is a combination I can fully support. I took care in making sure every steak was exactly the same weight. In fact, I combined several trimmed off pieces of meat together, tying them into a scrap steak of sorts, and it worked fine. It is also worth noting that good ventilation is required for this recipe. The smoking hot skillet and the ample covering of peppercorns makes for a very smoke-filled cough-inducing environment for the few minutes that it is searing on the stove. Be warned, you will probably need to open a window.
CRUNCHY ICEBERG SALAD WITH CREAMY BLUE CHEESE. It doesn’t always happen that the finished product ends up looking like the photo in the book, but this was indeed the case with this salad. I loved everything about it. The presentation is particularly creative, though not at all difficult. Instead of using a standard wedge of Iceberg lettuce, you slice the head into thick slabs and lay them flat on the plate. Then the toppings and dressing are piled on top, tumbling over the top of the lettuce and making a very pretty yet practical salad course. As an added touch, I chilled my salad plates in the freezer before serving. I like this trick for keeping the iceberg as cold as possible for as long as possible.
CHEDDAR DILL SCONES. I am a sucker for hot bread products, and homemade scones, fresh from the oven hit the spot every time. Scones are similar to biscuits, and the only way to get good at making them, is to have a recipe you can trust and to go for it. Flour your hands and dive in. If you’ve never made scones before, you have to try. This rendition with cubes of cheddar and lots of fresh dill, was a savory delight. I used sharp cheddar and found the flavor to be necessary to cut through all of the flour and butter. The egg wash on top yields golden crusty results, and the flecks of sea salt give texture and added seasoning. I highly recommend these scones.
As always, I have not included every thought I had on every recipe I cooked. To do so would be a bit too much to expect anyone to read or care about. But if you have questions about any of these recipes, please ask! I have made them all and would love to give you my opinion based on my experience!