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Cooking with the Contessa

November 12, 2010

I may have a library sized collection of cookbooks, but I can’t say I’ve ever used a Barefoot Contessa recipe before. In all honesty, I sort of lumped her in with the “Seriously, HOW much butter/milk/fat/calories is that recipe? Are you for real?!” category (see also: Deen, Paula).

Anywhooo… while wasting time in Costco, I picked up her latest cookbook and started perusing. After bookmarking 8 recipes as “I must try this! NOW!”, I thought I’d better purchase said book and bring it on home.

Then I took it to work, where my coworker bookmarked four more recipes and fled to Costco to purchase her own copy. With all the hype, these recipes better deliver.

So, I rounded up some fearless taste testers, and set out to cook with the Contessa, or as I came to refer to the evening as, “Garlic Fest 2010” (the Contessa sure does love her garlic).

Lemon Chicken Breasts (pg. 120)

Garlic Roasted Cauliflower (pg. 173)

Potato Basil Puree (pg. 188)

I’m not going to reprint the recipes here, but I will say, if you have lemon, garlic, olive oil, a few pieces of chicken, more garlic, a few potatoes, basil, more olive oil, a basket of lemons, and, MORE garlic, you are well on your way to creating these three dishes. Speaking of garlic, I purchased locally grown, organic garlic, and I’m not kidding the garlic heads were as large as my palm and about 10 times more potent than regular china imported garlic. So, word to the wise, decrease the garlic clove usage if you decide to go the local/organic route.

In my infinite wisdom, I decided to hold GarlicFest2010 on a Wednesday night. I figured since Thursday was a holiday, I’d just sleep in after my epic night of cooking. I may have miscalculated on the whole “serving dinner at an appropriate dinner time” but whatever, just ply your friends with hummus, crackers and wine. Lots of wine, as it covers a multitude of timing delays. And then, someone texted me at 8AM on my holiday sleep in, so clearly, my plan was a bust all around.

Lesson learned: Dinner parties mid-week are never a good idea. Especially dinner parties were you make 3 brand new recipes.

Prep: (lemon chicken)


Seriously, do you see the size of that garlic (?!) and, pictures of chicken are the most unappetizing sight ever. Sorry about that. Also, wine makes any recipe better. Add more.

All on the table (unseen bowl of salad as well):




And then, there was silence. As in “we talked FOREVER while you ran around your kitchen,  doing goodness knows what, but there was green paste involved, and you can smell the garlic from three blocks away, but now that the food in finally on our plates, we are going to inhale in and eat every, single bite, and then go back for seconds. No Thirds” kinds of silence. They are still talking about it 3 days later, so I’m going to assume it was good.

Of course, as the person who cooked it, I noticed some things that could be changed or adapted.

I subbed in chicken thighs instead of breasts, and it worked fine. Cheaper too.

Use a dutch oven and make the white wine sauce in the dutch oven on the stove to start with, then place the chicken in. Don’t dirty an unnecessary pot making the sauce separately.

I got lazy and didn’t use a handmixer to smooth out the basil/milk/potato mixture. By that point I’d already dirtied half the appliances in my kitchen and didn’t feel like searching for my one missing beater among my kitchen cupboards to add to the pile of dishes in my sink. So, you know, the potatoes were a little chunkier than the Contessa’s.

–   Or, if you are feeling uber-lazy, and have pre-made pesto, just throw that in and call it a day

–   Seriously, I’m using my frozen home-made pesto next time. Screw the basil leaf ice bath.

I used rice milk instead of regular half and half, and next time, I’d totally sub in vegan parmesan for regular. I’m pretty sure it makes the potatoes less creamy, but you won’t notice once everything is on the plate and the garlic takes over everything.

I wouldn’t change a thing about the cauliflower, although I didn’t use pine nuts, because those things are more precious than gold in my kitchen right now

Best part of the dinner right here:


I dreamed about this cauliflower last night.

And then, once your taste testers are stuffed beyond belief, force them to eat more in the form of a weird dessert hybrid of homemade GF bread smothered with chocolate hazelnut spread, and homemade raspberry oat bars. And send them home with overfilled containers of leftover basil potatoes.

Just be warned, your house will smell like garlic for days after. Not that that is a bad thing…

PS. I was playing around in Mars Edit, and I’m not sure what I did to the font, but I can’t change it back. Um. Sorry about that.

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