Here’s the thing about a new Barefoot Contessa cookbook. Everything is new and different, and you can crank out three new recipes in one meal because you haven’t been avoiding any of them for their expensive or weird ingredients. The vegetables here were big winners. The sweet potato puree was sweet and creamy without being overly sweet. The creaminess came naturally – a stick and a half of butter, plus half and half. Ooof. But instead of the brown sugar or marshmallows that adorn way too many sweet potato dishes, this just had freshly squeezed orange juice and orange zest to brighten it up, and a dash of cayenne and freshly ground black pepper for a little kick. The addition of orange juice was a little unexpected, but it really worked. Back when I was first discovering sweet potatoes (we didn’t eat them when I was growing up, because of the aforementioned marshmallows in all the recipes my mom encountered), I found a Rachael Ray recipe for sweet potatoes that included a ripe banana. She swore up and down (and enthusiastically so) that our guests would think, “Wow! There’s something there, but I’m not quite sure what it is.” She was wrong. I think she just had an overripe banana to use up when she was throwing things together. I think it was then that I realized that not all celebrity chefs are created equal. I will take orange juice and cayenne over a banana any day. These sweet potatoes were easy and accessible enough for a weeknight, but still worthy of the Thanksgiving dinner table.
The green beans were similar – the gremolata mixture makes this holiday-worthy, but it takes just a few minutes to mix up – in the same amount of time it takes to steam the beans. I don’t know what “gremolata” means, but I think it comes from the Latin for “Sweet Jehovah, I didn’t know that green beans could taste like this,” and it consists of pine nuts, fresh parsley, lemon zest, olive oil, garlic, and parmesan. Where was this recipe during green bean season?!
The chicken was good, but not as praise-worthy as the vegetables in this meal. It was kind of a combination of lemon thyme chicken and oven-fried chicken. Instead of egg to make the breading stick to the chicken pieces, the recipe calls for a combination of dijon mustard and white wine. In theory, I like this idea – more flavor, and a nice substitute for when you’re running low on eggs. But in practice, the mixture kind of crumbled off. And with almost all Barefoot Contessa chicken recipes, the chicken was still really pink when the suggested time was up. I timed the rest of the dinner around the chicken, and I ended up photographing the chicken separately because it needed another 10-15 minutes to cook before serving it. (She gets kind of preachy about this in Foolproof, by the way. ”If one of my recipes didn’t work for you, it must be because you did something really, really wrong.” Either that, Ina, or you like raw chicken.) I, obviously, am not immune to substitutions or throwing caution to the wind when it comes to specific measurements, but this time I was really careful to follow the directions precisely, and the chicken was not previously frozen, so that should not have affected the cooking time. I think I do need to invest in an oven thermometer, but until then, it seems that I just need to factor in some extra time when it comes to her poultry recipes. I thought the kids would be all over this, but they refused to touch it. It’s getting harder and harder to sell me on chicken recipes to cook at home, when this chicken cost over $8 and rotisserie chickens (which the kids devour) are $5/each at Costco and on certain grocery store sale days. But this was worth a try. I still wouldn’t say that it was bad, but maybe not worth the effort.
(All recipes from Foolproof.)