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Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Barefoot Contessa at My House

Can you have your cake and eat it too?  Yes, I think so.  Here at the Library I oversee the cookbook collection, and then sometimes get to bake from some of those selfsame books for our staff meetings.   I don't have to personally buy the books, but you and I get to use them whenever we want.

I’ve been cooking and baking from Ina Garten’s new Barefoot Contessa book, Foolproof:  Recipes You Can Trust, and every recipe is, in fact, delicious.  But you can’t eat from these recipes every day.  Too rich!  Too fattening!  And sometimes too expensive, too.

(Shrimp) Mac and Cheese
This book has three recipes for lobster, and I don’t know about you, but that is a special occasion recipe for me. I made the Lobster Mac and Cheese and substituted shrimp for a more affordable option.  It was outrageously rich, so full of cheese that you could only eat a small portion, but I loved every bite. 

LOL - who cut a piece out of the middle?
Then I baked Chocolate Chip Blondies – again, very chocolately, buttery and delicious – I put the leftovers in the freezer so I wouldn’t be tempted to eat them.  I have to confess sneaking one to savor – still frozen - after dinner each evening in front of the telly.

Before and...
My husband requested carrot cake for his birthday in December, but that just did not happen.  Birthdays near the holidays should just not be allowed – too much else goes on!  But I did make Ina’s Carrot Cake with Ginger Frosting for Superbowl for him.  You really cannot beat Ina’s baking recipes, they are just uniformly superlative versions of the tried and true.

The German Chocolate Cupcakes were wonderfully balanced with a tangy sour cream buttermilk cocoa cake and thick sweet coconut pecan frosting on top.  But again, very indulgent and filling.

So pretty!
For Valentine’s Day I baked the shortbread based Raspberry Crumble Bars, deep red and beautiful and seductively delicious.  Help!  My diet is shot to pieces.  I have to stop baking from this book!

This morning, before work, I rolled out the refrigerated dough I had made yesterday for the French Apple Tart from Ina’s Back to Basics Cookbook.  Slicing up Granny Smith apples and sprinkling them with sugar and butter, and then glazing the tart after baking with pear jam, this was a less crazily sinful dessert than the four from Foolproof, but equally delicious.

All of the Barefoot Contessa’s recipes are outstanding not only because of their ease of preparation, but because of their quality and simplicity.  The ingredients are few and easy to find, the directions are straightforward, and the results are consistently wonderful.

Easier than it looks: crisp flaky pastry topped with sweet tart apples.
French Apple Tart
Adapted from Ina Garten’s Back to Basics

2 cups all purpose flour
1 Tablespoon white sugar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 ½ sticks (12 Tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
½ cup ice water
4 Granny Smith apples, peeled
½ cup white sugar
½ stick (4 Tablespoons) cold unsalted butter
½ cup apricot or pear jam
1 Tablespoon Calvados, Triple Sec or Grand Marnier

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Whirl the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor.  Add the cubed butter, and process until the butter is mixed up into uniform crumbs.  Add the ice water and process 10 or 12 times until just starting to come together in  a ball.  Form into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and a baggie, and pop in fridge for 1 hour or up to 2 days.

On a floured surface, roll out dough into a 10 x 12 inch rectangle.  Place on a parchment lined sheet pan with sides. 

Cut each apple in half, and with a melon baller, cut out the cores.  Slice each half into ¼ inch thick slices.  Layer the slices diagonally across the dough in rows.  Sprinkle with the sugar.  Dot with small cubes of butter.  Bake in the oven 45 minutes to one hour, until the pastry and some of the apples are golden brown.  You will know it’s done by the lovely smell of the pastry.  Some of the sugar and apple juices will have run off the tart and turned black in the pan.  This is as it should be – don’t panic.

Loosen the tart from the blackend parchment and slide the whole thing off onto a clean sheet of parchment paper and then put the tart with the clean parchment back onto the warm pan.  Let cool 10 minutes. 

Add the liquor to the jam and heat up gently in microwave.  Brush the mixture all over the apples and pastry so that it is shiny and beautiful.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Cut into squares and pretend you’re in Paris!  The diet? – you can diet tomorrow.

Diane Whitman
Reference Librarian
Baker, Frustrated Dieter

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