In Week Five, Ina released her eleventh cookbook, Cook Like A Pro. We celebrated by hosting our first VIP party for our sponsors on the book-release date. In my head, this was going to be easy. I would choose party food from the project and then make it, which would both serve food to our guests and cross recipes off the list. What I failed to consider was the increased work that comes with making increased quantities of each recipe.
You’d think I’d never hosted a party before, or, you know, owned a food-based business. I found myself short on time, but I worked smart by prepping things in large batches, getting as much done ahead of time as possible, and then making sure I had lots of helping hands for all of the last minutes items like decorating the room and setting up the different stations.
The party was a blast. We pre-poured the cocktails into glasses (rented, of course) and served them on a shelf placed directly in front of our walk-in cooler door. Guests could help themselves, and no one had to play bartender. We also played Ina Bingo, which was a riot. Words like “Jeffrey” “good olive oil,” and “Paris” were on each bingo board. The winners of each round received one of my favorite tools or ingredients. To end the evening, we did a drawing and gave away a copy of the new cookbook. I loved getting to celebrate our Ina In A Year VIPs with a fun and delicious party.
WHAT I COOKED
Scallops Provencal, Barefoot In Paris
Green Salad Vinaigrette, Barefoot In Paris
Caramelized Bacon, Foolproof
Lamb Sausage in Puff Pastry, Barefoot Contessa Cookbook
Roasted Figs and Prosciutto, How Easy Is That?
Bruschetta with Peppers and Gorgonzola, Back to Basics
Chocolate Chunk Blondie Bars, Foolproof
Pomegranate Cosmopolitans, Back to Basics
Fresh Whiskey Sours, At Home
Buffalo Chicken Wings, Family Style
Sliders, How Easy Is That?
Blue Cheese Coleslaw, At Home
Chipotle and Rosemary Roasted Nuts, How Easy Is That?
Truffled Popcorn, How Easy Is That?
Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Icing, At Home
WHAT I LEARNED
SCALLOPS PROVENCAL. This whole recipe was a learning experience. I have tasted scallops once or twice off of Timm’s plate in a restaurant, but I had never cooked them at home. I did a lot of research about scallops, but at the end of it all, I just bought the sea scallops from the fish counter at my local Central Market. I suppose scallops are the kind of thing you want to eat when you are on the coast, and I assume the ones available to me are not as fresh as ones caught in a coastal town (like, for example, the Hamptons). But I did the best I could. I bought two pounds (doubling the recipe) for our family of six. The recipe said if you are using sea scallops (as opposed to bay scallops) you should cut them in half horizontally. This seemed strange to me, so I googled the recipe and found a video clip from Ina’s show on Food Network where she cooks this very dish. On the video, her scallops looked as large as mine, and she said nothing about cutting them in half horizontally. Wanting to try it both ways, I cut one pound in half, and I left the other pound as is. I definitely preferred the ones that were not cut in half. I wish I had preheated my pan longer before adding in the butter so that my sear would have been more crusty. Were these delicious? They were. My family enjoyed them thouroughly. But I am not sure that scallops are my thing. I enjoy seafood, and I don’t have an issue with texture, but these are hard for me to fully enjoy. Scallops have a very distinct fishy flavor, and they are quite rich. I ate two and had to stop. My kids asked for seconds, so that feels like a win. These literally came together in under ten minutes, and the sauce is insanely good. These made for a quick dinner, and I served it over plain white rice per the recipe’s suggestion.
CARAMELIZED BACON. This is, without a doubt, one of the top ten recipes from Ina’s repertoire. I made and served it for the VIP party, and it was the first to disappear. I made this around lunch time, and then left it out at room temperature until the party. Don’t be afraid of the mess it makes on the sheet trays. It can’t be helped, and the foil lining helps tremendously. I forgot to place a rack inside the pan, but it still worked beautifully.
ROASTED FIGS WITH PROSCIUTTO. Again, one of my favorites, with the added bonus of having two ingredients, requiring no cooking, yet yielding delicious results. I can’t stress enough how easy and delicious these are, and I can’t think of a better party food or first course.
POMEGRANATE COSMOPOLOTAINS. Be warned! These pack quite a punch. I may have discovered this the hard way, but that is another story for another time. I made these in large batches early in the day, stored them in quart containers, chilled them in the fridge, and then poured them into mini martini glasses right before the party. At the end of the party, we had extra cocktails left over, so I sent them home with friends (in quart containers). We called it a Party To Go.
FRESH WHISKEY SOURS. If you make one cocktail of Ina’s, make this one. It will set the bar for what fresh sour mix is supposed to taste like. It will ruin you from ever enjoying the bottled stuff ever again, but that is not a bad thing. This drink is kind of like grown up lemonade. It’s a whiskey drink for people who think they don’t like whiskey. I love serving these in the summer, but there really isn’t a wrong time to serve them. They are tart, tangy, sweet, and a lovely amber color. I love the garnish of the red cherry.
BUFFALO CHICKEN WINGS. I treasure the moments from this project where my assumptions have been proven wrong. Preparing these Buffalo Chicken Wings was one of those moments. I had planned a “Game Day” menu which included these wings, plus sliders, coleslaw, popcorn, nuts, and a dessert. I knew that everything would be delicious, but I sincerely expected the wings to be not quite on point. Buffalo Chicken Wings don’t strike me as the kind fo food Ina is known for getting right. I was wrong. I loved these more than I expected to. When I eat Buffalo wings (which is rare), I usually don’t enjoy the process. They are typically way over-sauced, leaving my lips burning and my tongue numb. These are seasoned, roasted to a crisp, then slathered in a buttery hot sauce and broiled until the sauce thickens and the butter browns. I used my knowledge of chicken and amply salted the wings beforehand, because chicken requires a lot of salt to taste like anything at all. The finished product was something I would make again. As an added note of convenience, the recipe called for whole wings that you then butcher yourself. Next time I would purchase the ones that are already separated, because nobody wants to butcher chicken wings. Nobody.
BLUE CHEESE COLESLAW. I am doing my best not to bash many elements of this project because the last thing we need is more negativity. But I need to take a moment and point out one of my main frustrations that continues to come up again and again in the context of these recipes. I have found that while I can implicitly trust Ina’s recipes to produce perfect results, I cannot trust Ina’s suggested number of servings. Let’s take a look at this recipe for Blue Cheese Coleslaw as an example. The recipe states it will serve 6 to 8 people. This recipe yielded four quarts (which is 16 cups) of coleslaw, and it required me to use a giant stainless steel bowl from the Hurley House kitchen in order to mix it all together. In what universe does sixteen cups feed 6 to 8 people? In my universe, when I serve coleslaw, people take maybe half a cup. Maybe. Coleslaw is like beans in this regard. The serving size is small, particularly when there are lots of other items on the menu. No one takes two cups of coleslaw. This recipe easily serves 24 to 30 people, and you are going to need a bowl the size of a bathtub in which to mix it. Apart from those caveats, this recipe was delicious.
CHIPOTLE AND ROSEMARY ROASTED NUTS. If you are a Hurley House customer, then this recipe sounds familiar. Yes, these are the very same nuts we sell on our shelves. I first discovered these years ago, and began making them for my family and friends. The rave reviews never ceased. These are so popular at HH we have trouble keeping them in stock. At Christmas time, there is a waiting list. I was reminded, as I made a charming little single batch of these nuts in my home kitchen, why these are amazing. The flavors of smokey chipotle, sweet maple syrup, herby rosemary, and bright orange juice are perfection. I also would wish for everyone to make a batch of these so that you can fully appreciate (as I did this past week) how much work is required to produce these nuts on a mass scale at Hurley House. They are not difficult, so don’t be scared off from making them, but they are a bit high maintenance and they make a mess. Good things often require the most from us in the kitchen, and that is a lesson worth remembering.
PAN ROASTED ROOT VEGETABLES. One of the interesting discoveries from cooking a lot of different vegetable dishes has been the category of flavors that vegetables can be divided into. There is the sweet category (butternut squash, sweet potatoes, corn), the green category (green beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts), and there is the root vegetable category (carrots, parsnips, turnip, celery root). Pan Roasted Root Vegetables highlights the very distinct flavor of the root vegetable. Like my experience with scallops, I don’t dislike this, but it’s not my favorite. This dish reminds me of what I think kids who don’t like vegetables imagine vegetables to taste like. It is overwhelmingly full of the common taste denominator found in root vegetables. Usually, when a root vegetable is included in a dish, it sings the root vegetable note and adds an interesting essence to the finished dish. In this case, however, you will find a choir of only root vegetables, and if you don’t like that note, this is not the dish for you. Treslyn, who works at Hurley House and has a deep abiding love for root vegetables, and who also routinely sautés celery as a side dish (who even does that?), could not get enough of this dish. She gobbled it up, and asked for more. This side dish was beautiful on the plate, simple to prepare, but perhaps not my favorite flavor profile.
So many more things to say, but alas, I will end here. Questions? Comments? Thoughts?