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Hear Your Heroes: A Conversation with Ina Garten

Who would you invite to your fake fantasy dinner party?

Let’s assume it’s you + 3 people. No stipulations.

I’m going to say: Tina Fey, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Ina Garten.

I think we’d all have lots to talk about, no? Tina and Ina already have met on 30 Rock. Tina and Lin are both prolific writers and actors. Lin and I are both Puerto Rican. I mean, the conversation is flowing and I haven’t even opened the first fake bottle of wine yet.

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via Buzzfeed

Ina Garten spoke in Richmond last Tuesday and I got the opportunity to go and, PEOPLE, it was incredible.

Disclaimer: I am a dork and I love Ina Garten, so if either of these things offend you, just X on outta this post.

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The only photo I took. It is genuinely terrible. 

I think I’ve seen every episode of Ina’s show, The Barefoot Contessa. I own more of her cookbooks than anyone’s and they’re the first books I consult when I have a party, need a recipe, or need inspiration. She feels like a friend or family member. Her soothing manner of saying, “how easy is that?” is instantly calming.

I’ll admit, I cried more than once during the event. (I said I was a dork.) But honestly, I was overwhelmed by her ease and grace was really  inspired by the path her career has taken. She is even more more interesting and charming in person.

Throughout the evening, which was billed as ‘a conversation with Ina Garten’, the moderator (who was also a friend of hers) steered us through questions about her early years in nuclear energy policy at The White House, how that brought her to to buy the deli in the Hamptons called The Barefoot Contessa, how she was so out of her depth when she first owned it but then how it rose to success, how she wrote her first cookbook, and how she started with The Food Network. The biggest success of her entire career didn’t come until her late 30s/early 40s. She turned down the pilot to her cooking show and then the Food Network came back to her with a better offer. And then she turned it down again. Until they just told her, “yeah, we’re going to shoot this pilot. We’re coming in 2 weeks.” Insanity.

It was fascinating to me to hear her talk candidly about her successes and failures, but even more interesting was when she spoke so honestly of feeling overwhelmed or scared to do something new, but just doing it anyway. It’s a good reminder not to let those fears of how or why get in your way. Just do it and then figure out why you’re doing it later. You can course correct once you’ve started.

Of course, there were some wonderful entertaining tips, which I’m excited to share with y’all. Some of these are fairly intuitive, yet, I didn’t always think of them. But that’s the thing she does best—strips back the bullshit and gets to things in their simplest terms.

  • Dinner parties are about the friends, not the food. So pick a really simple meal and just enjoy yourself. As a guest, you don’t want to impose upon your host. And as a host, you don’t want to be in the kitchen all night.
  • Only invite people that you really love over for dinner.
  • The fancier the guests, the simpler the dinner.
  • Ask your guests what they don’t eat and then make one meal for everyone. Find the thread between vegetarian/pescetarian/omnivore/other.
  • Always put the two most talkative people opposite each other. If they’re next to each other, the conversation stops with them.

I think the loveliest moment of the evening was when the moderator asked Ina why she felt food/food culture has become so important now.

I’m paraphrasing here, but she said that it’s really about taking care of ourselves and connecting with people. We have high stress jobs and ‘jangled nervous.’ How generous it is to be able care for cook for someone.

Isn’t that the whole point of this life—to connect with and care for others? There is nothing I’d rather do than make someone feel cared for and loved with some fried chicken and a pie.

That got a little sappy, y’all. But Ina brings out it out in me.

And now, back to my regularly scheduled quippiness.

Ina Garten is a New York Times best selling author and has many wonderful cookbooks, which are available here.

Her newest cookbook is called Cooking for Jeffrey and comes out in October.

 

 

 

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Boredom: Pistachio Coconut Cream Pie!

What do you do when you’re bored?

Here’s what I do:

  • Instagram until I get to the last Instagram post I remember
  • Facebook until I get to the last Facebook post I remember OR until I get to the kind of posts that are like these that I find so annoying:
    • Dan, babe, you are the most perfect, special, amazing human being and I can’t imagine my life without you. I would literally die if I didn’t wake up inside your loving arms every day, babe. Our wedding day was the best day of my life and every other day has been the best day too and every future day is the best day of my future life. I eat drink and breathe you babe. XOXOXOXOXOXOX Amy
      • Geez, Amy. There are a lot of feelings and thoughts and emotions there (and very few commas). Maybe put some of those those in a card to Dan. He’d probably appreciate it in a way that I would not.
  • Clean
    • JK I NEVER DO THAT WHEN I’M BORED
  • Netflix
  • Make a pie

I didn’t have much to do one recent Saturday and I had all my chores done (I am very cool!). I had nowhere to be, a full fridge and a full pantry. Huh. Ok. WEIRD.

The next day was Easter. I was planning a meal at home by myself (again, I am VERY cool). I had nothing planned for dessert. It seemed perfectly appropriate to make a whole pie for one person.

For me, the most challenging and most rewarding baking projects have been pies. I am always proud of what I accomplished. But, I always can find something I would have done differently or could have done better. There’s always room to grow.

If you’re moderately experienced baker and you want to take your pie baking to the next level, please do yourself a favor and get the Four & Twenty Blackbirds cookbook. Their innovative twists on classic flavors satisfy me on a deep, soulful level.

On that lazy Saturday, where time and space no longer mattered, I decided on the Pistachio Coconut Cream Pie. Why that pie? Well, I love coconut cream pie. Plus, I had most of the ingredients for the pistachio coconut cream pie at home. Sometimes, the decisions are made for you.

This pie is worth the effort that is required to make it. Is it horribly, terribly difficult to make? No, not exactly. But it’s also not easy; it’s labor intensive. You will need a couple of hours. You will need a bit of patience and a bit of chutzpah. I was particularly nervous when I was making my custard, as the only other time I made one I scrambled the eggs when I added the hot milk. Not remotely tasty.

This pie, however, turned out to be quite delicious.

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The pistachio adds an subtle earthiness, and since I used the salted pistachios I had on hand, a pleasant saltiness to balance the sweetness of the cream and sugar in the pie. The area that I’m going to try to work to improve next time is the crust. It was quite loose and crumbly, I think largely due to the fact that my shredded coconut was very dry. But the flavor was spot on. And bonus, it’s gluten-free and no-bake. So lah di dah!

The moral of this story is when you get a little bored, delicious things can happen. Put your phone down and make a pie.

Dan and Amy will probably thank you. Publicly. In an Facebook post.

Four & Twenty Blackbirds pie is available at their Pie Shop in Brooklyn and on countless other menus in New York.

PIE SHOP
439 3rd Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11215
Phone (718) 499 2917
MONDAY – FRIDAY 8am – 8pm
SATURDAY 9am – 8pm, SUNDAY 10am – 7pm

Buy their book here.

Pistachio Coconut Cream Pie from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book

Crust:

Makes one 9-inch pie crust

  • ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon shelled pistachios, raw and unsalted
  • ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • ¼ kosher salt

In a dry medium-size skillet, toast the pistachios over a medium heat until fragrant, 7 to 9 minutes; shake the pan or stir frequently to prevent burning. Pour into a shallow dish and allow to cool about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, toast the coconut in the same skillet over medium-low heat 2 to 3 minutes or until lightly golden and fragrant. When finished, immediately add to the pistachios.

Once cool, pour the toasted pistachios and coconut plus the sugar and salt into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Process until the pistachios are finely chopped and the mixture looks homogenous, scraping down if necessary; the crumbs will stick together slightly when ready.

Pour the crumbs into an ungreased, preferably metal 9-inch pie pan. Spread evenly over the bottom; then create a circle about 1 inch in to separate the crumbs for the sides from the crumbs for the bottom. Start pressing the outer ring of crumbs evenly up the sides and into the corner (where the side meets the bottom) of the pan. Press the remaining crumbs evenly over the bottoms to meet the sides; use a flat-bottomed cup to smooth out bumps. Freeze until solid at least 10 minutes, before filling.

Filling:

  • 2/3 cup shelled pistachios, raw and unsalted
  • 2 ½ cups whole milk
  • 5 large egg yolks, whisked
  • 6 tablespoons cornstarch
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 ¼ cups coconut milk | I used full fat. Because fat is flavor.
  • 2- to 3-inch strip lime zest
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon confectioner’s sugar

Chop the pistachios in a food processor fitted with a blade attachment until chopped into medium to find pieces. Add the chopped nuts to a heavy-bottomed saucepan along with the whole milk. Bring just to a boil over medium heat, remove the pan from the heat, and cover. Set aside to steep for 15 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, have the whisked egg yolks ready in a large bowl. In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk together the cornstarch, granulated sugar, and salt. Whisk in the coconut milk and add the strip of lime zest. Strain the pistachios from the milk, then add the milk to the saucepan and whisk until combined. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until bubbling and thick, about 5 minutes. Once the mixture boils, cook for about 2 minutes longer. Remove from the heat.

Slowly and carefully stream one-third of the hot milk mixture into the yolks, whisking constantly to prevent the yolks from cooking. Stream in the remaining hot milk, and then return the mixture to the saucepan.

Have a large bowl ready for cooling and a fine-mesh sieve to strain the mixture through. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture just returns to a boil, 1 to 2 minutes. Strain through the sieve, using a spatula to push the mixture through and to scrape the filling clinging to the bottom of the sieve. Allow to cool for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent a skin from forming.

Sir in the butter 1 tablespoon at a time, fully incorporating each addition before adding the next. Stir in the lime juice. Pour into the prepared crust and press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the filling. Refrigerate until firm, about 4 hours.

In the chilled bowl of an electric mixer, beat the cream on medium speed until soft peaks form. Add the confectioners’ sugar and continue beating on medium-low speed just until the cream holds stiff peaks. Remove the plastic wrap from the surface of the filling and spread the cream over the pie. Slice and serve.

The pie will keep refrigerated for 2 days.

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Welcome 2015: New Year’s Beach

Happy New Year, people.

It’s 2015 and apparently the millennium was 15 years ago. So, there’s that. Fortunately, the Willennium is still going strong and will never, ever end.)

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I was lucky enough to ring in New Year at the beach in North Carolina with friends old and new. It was my second trip to Southport/Oak Island with Anna and Kevin and we BALLED SO HARD.*

*As you all know, ‘balled so hard’ means cooking, eating at restaurants, baking, drinking a few beers, watching movies and antiquing. Wait, what do other people mean when they ball so hard?

Anna is one of my favorite people to cook and eat with because she’s up for anything. (One of the many reasons I love her!) We threw together a delicious feast for New Year’s Eve dinner where everything was so perfect because we’re really amazing cooks and we’re great at everything forever.

If my sarcasm wasn’t coming through there, well, it should’ve been.

We DID throw together a delicious feast for New Year’s Eve. Kevin and his brother-in-law, Marty, grilled some pork tenderloins and shrimp. Anna and I concentrated on making some amazing copycat Red Lobster Cheddar Bay biscuits. I wasn’t going to go to Red Lobster anytime soon, and now, I’ll never need to go again!

Seriously though, the last time I was at a Red Lobster was after the softball Final Four my sophomore year of high school. We’d just lost in the semifinals and we were in the middle of nowhere Florida and the only place to eat was Red Lobster. My dad ordered a baked potato and there was a cockroach BAKED INTO HIS POTATO. He alerted the server, who alerted the manager, who promptly came over and gave my dad some Red Lobster Bucks as an apology. My dad left the Red Lobster Bucks as a tip because THEY DID NOT COMP HIS MEAL. Absurd.

But their biscuits are bomb as hell.

In addition to our biscuits, Anna made some lovely bacon brussels sprouts. And she and I collaborated on a really terrible cake. We had the idea to do a tres leches cakes (that’s three milks, y’all). We found a relatively unfussy recipe from FoodNetwork.com. I won’t go into details, but basically, it overcooked on the outside and didn’t bake AT ALL in the middle. We followed instructions! It was gross.

Redemption came two days later when we made an improvised Cranberry Cake out of ingredients we had in the pantry. We made them as cupcakes, which made us feel like we had the God given right to eat as many of them as possible.

As I mentioned, we BALLED SO HARD by eating at some of the local restaurants. WHAT?!!? WE ARE SO GD RICH WE ARE BASICALLY OPRAH!!!!

The food at the beach is really fun. Obviously a generalization, but it is unpretentious and focused on simple food with big flavor. These three places are terrific and should not be missed on a trip to Southport/Oak Island.

  • Terry’s Barbecue: This is a relatively new barbecue joint and it is the real deal. The chef/owner, Terry, is classically trained and spent years in big city catering. His retirement plan was to open up this tiny barbecue joint and do what he loved. We took it to go, since there isn’t a dining room yet (next spring, they say!) The pulled pork is excellent, served with an North Carolina vinegar sauce as well as a thick, sweet sauce, but the ribs? The ribs are the star of the show. They were smoky and falling off the bone. Go to Terry’s. Don’t tell him I sent you because he does not know who I am.

    Dat barbecue, tho.

  • Loco Jo’s Grill: A trip to the beach isn’t complete until you’ve had Loco Jo’s. It doesn’t make sense to have fish tacos on a menu with shrimp egg rolls, but it’s delicious and somehow all works together. I would’ve taken pictures of my food, but I was too busy eating it. Sue me.
  • Fat Andy’s: This is a wonderful example of food executed perfectly in a no-frills environment. It’s a cash-only place on the side of the road with picnic tables outside. Ain’t nobody got time for indoor seating. This burger was absolutely delicious. Every component was super fresh, served alongside the crispiest fries I’ve ever eaten. Fulton appreciated the fries as much as we did.

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At any rate, my first trip back to North Carolina was a great one. It was wonderful to spend time with Anna and Kevin and meet Anna’s sister, Susan, and her husband, Marty. I was also really lucky that my other friend Anna happened to be in town as well. I got to spend one morning hanging out with the Annas drinking bloody Marys and comparing Serial theories. Even more random, I ran into one of my theatre professors at a coffee shop.

2014 was a year of a lot of change for me. It’s been exciting and hard and scary and wonderful and sad, sometimes all at the same time. But it seems that fate was reminding me at the end of the year that even though I’ve physically left my friends, my friends haven’t left me. Sappy though that may sound.

Now, back to my regularly scheduled balling: 2015 style.

Red Lobster Cheddar Bay Biscuits from Damn Delicious

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, optional
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
For the topping:
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat; set aside. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, garlic powder, salt and cayenne pepper, if using.In a large glass measuring cup or another bowl, whisk together buttermilk and butter. Pour mixture over dry ingredients and stir using a rubber spatula just until moist. Gently fold in cheese.

Using a 1/4-cup measuring cup, scoop the batter evenly onto the prepared baking sheet. Place into oven and bake for 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown. For the topping, whisk together butter, parsley and garlic powder in a small bowl. Working one at a time, brush the tops of the biscuits with the butter mixture.

Serve immediately. Leave no biscuit behind.

Better than the original because you don't have to go into a Red Lobster to eat them!

Better than the original because you don’t have to go into a Red Lobster to eat them!

Cranberry Cake from The Kitchn

Makes one 10-inch springform cake. Alternately: Four 4-cup loaves or 24 to 30 cupcakes.
Ingredients:
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, cubed and softened at room temperature for 1 hour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract, optional
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/2 cups cranberries (12-ounce bag)

Optional pecan topping | This topping is optional, but should not be dismissed.

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup pecans, unroasted

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 10-inch springform pan (or a collection of smaller pans. This make 10 to 12 cups of batter.)

Use a stand mixer or hand beaters to beat the eggs and sugar until very smooth and increased in volume. If using a stand mixer, beat on medium speed for 4 to 7 minutes, using the whip attachment. If using hand beaters, beat on high speed for 6 to 8 minutes. The egg and sugar mixture will double in volume and turn very pale yellow, leaving ribbons on top of the batter when you lift the beaters.

Beat in the butter, vanilla, and almond extract, if using. Beat for 2 minutes or until the butter is smoothly incorporated.

Use a spatula to fold in the flour, salt, and cranberries. The batter will be quite thick. Spread gently into the prepared pan.

To prepare the optional pecan topping, heat the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the sugar and stir. Add the pecans and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring, until the butter and sugar mixture is shiny and smooth and the nuts are well-coated with the butter and sugar. Spread over the cake batter.

Bake 60 to 80 minutes for the springform. For smaller pans, start checking after 30 minutes, but expect small loaves to take at least 40 minutes. Tent the cake with foil in the last 30 minutes of baking to keep the top from browning (this is especially important for the pecan topping).

Cool for 20 minutes then run a knife around the inside edge of the pan and remove the cake. Cool for an hour before serving.

The cake keeps and freezes well. To store, wrap the fully cooled cake tightly in plastic wrap and leave in a dry, cool place for up to 1 week.

To freeze, wrap the fully cooled cake in plastic wrap and then foil. Freeze for up to 2 months. Thaw overnight at room temperature, still wrapped.

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