Saturday, December 10, 2016

"Cooking for Jeffrey - A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook" by Ina Garten - Port Wine Prunes with Stilton and Walnut - Party food!

Date I made this recipe:  December 4, 2016 – Holiday party food!

Cooking for Jeffrey – a Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten
Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers
ISBN: 978-0-307-46489-7; ©2016
Recipe:  Port Wine Prunes with Stilton & Walnuts – p. 180

Last weekend, my husband and I threw our annual holiday open house and it, and this recipe, was a massive hit.  Massive.  Or, as a certain president-elect would say "Huge."

As apparently was our spread.  Mind you, we served the same amount of food as previous years but we did two things to make our lives easier:  we found and then added an extra leaf to the table, and we angled the table to allow for more walking/stalking space.

Because honestly, when our guests arrive, those in the know sort of "stalk" the table, examining each and every item and then commenting on each and every item before someone takes the plunge and spoons up the first item, after which, it's every man or woman (or child) for themselves. 

Back to the table though, hilariously, the two comments we heard this year were not about the food but as follows:  a) " added another leaf to the table" (Yes, but how did you know?), and b) "And you angled it," emphasis on the "angled."

Folks, never have we had such interest in our tables!  Were guests from previous years measuring the things while we weren't looking?  It's all so unclear.

So back to the food, the only difference the addition of that second leaf made to the table was to allow a tad more wiggle room between dishes.  That's it.  No deep, dark secret there.  The amount of food, although tweaked from year to year, remains about the same.  We debrief after every party to determine the "not quite," the "keepers," and the "better haves under penalty of death" items.  Each year, for instance, we'll receive pre-event messages from our guests along the lines of "Looking forward to the turkey meatballs!!!!" [hint, hint], or "Are you going to make the almond balls again this year?  Please?  Pretty please?"

Rest assured folks, we do repeat the favorites as we love our house and don't wish to see it burned down over something so simple as lack of a meatball. (Of course, if we burn down our house in the making of said meatball – which we would not do – that is another story all together.) 

Anyway,  out of the eight years that we have been throwing this shindig, I'd say at least one Ina Garten recipe has graced our table every time. Her caramelized onion dip is still one of our favorites and her lemon bars are to die for.[1] We'd invite Ina (and her husband, Jeffrey) to our soiree if we could but I imagine she is busy.  Plus, she'd have to come to Minneapolis which is a dicey endeavor at this time of year.  Some people throw shade on the woman (gasp – why?  I've met her and she's a lovely lady) but I tell you what, her recipes work.  She is not a fancy cook and she does not challenge you or your patience with her recipes and as fellow cookbook author, Martha Stewart, would say, "That's a good thing."  Say what you will, but you cannot go wrong with an Ina recipe, you cannot and several other recipes in this cookbook have now been earmarked for other occasions.

The path to this year's recipe – Port Wine Prunes with Stilton & Walnuts – was a tad unusual as I saw the recipe in the newspaper before I found it in her newly-released cookbook.  It was included in a Parade Magazine Sunday insert and I yanked the page containing this recipe and one for Ina's marinated cheese out of the paper and handed it off to Andy who promptly gave it a thumb's up.

Well, a qualified thumb's up.  " you think that some people will be turned off by the prunes?"  Five seconds later, he decided "Screw that, we're making them!"

And so we did.  And this is one of the easiest recipes on the planet and yet let me confess to you that I almost screwed it up by turning the cheese spread into glop.

I didn't mean to do it and in fact, mixed the Stilton and the mascarpone together the night before so as to be ready to roll.  And in theory, I was ready, but on the day of the party, Andy and I suddenly found ourselves in our own personal version of the Food Network show, Chopped, [aka "hell"] and we were working like crazy to get everything plated in time.  So when the cheese was a little stiff, I totally lost my head and decided to pop it in the microwave to warm for just a nanosecond but that nanosecond turned my spread into liquid.  Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Well crap, now what?  So I traded tasks with Andy and said "If you remake this spread, I'll do...something." (I forget what I traded).  And so he did and I did and it all worked.  And since I already had a lock and load on the port-infused prunes ("infused" is an Ina word) and had already toasted the walnuts, Andy was able to get them plated and on the table seconds before "Time's up!"

Dear god, I wanted to down a glass of the port just to take the edge off that moment but we are saving that for the next time we make these, and we will make these again, you can be sure of it.

So we put this dish on the table and people, they flew off the platter.  Flew.  And everybody wanted the recipe and so here it is and it is easy and it is glorious and your friends will be duly impressed.  Meanwhile, the only thing that should have a meltdown come party time is you so please then, ignore the Great Cheese Incident of 2016 and carry on.

Ina Garten's Port Wine with Prunes with Stilton & Walnuts  serves 6 to 8 (24 pieces)
24 large pitted prunes
2/3 cup ruby Port wine
2 ½ ounces English Stilton, crumbled
2 tablespoons Italian mascarpone cheese
24 walnut halves, lightly toasted

Place the prunes in a saucepan just large enough to hold them in a single layer and add the Port.  Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat, cover, and set aside for at least an hour for the prunes to become infused with the Port.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mash the Stilton and mascarpone together with a folk.  Cover and refrigerate.  (Ann's Note:  this action will cause your cheese mixture to stiffen so plan for time to bring it up to room temperature before you serve.)

When ready to plate, place the slightly warm prunes on a serving platter, place a small mound of the cold Stilton mixture in the hollow of each prune, and top with a toasted walnut, pressing very lightly.  Serve as part of a cheese platter.

Per Ina, the prunes can be prepared and refrigerated for up to four days, then warmed slightly and then assembled.

[1] So, small story:  the first year I made Ina's lemon bars, I pulled them out of the oven on time, but then put them on the stove top for a bit as I was attending to other things.  Several minutes later, I realized I had forgotten about them and was certain they were ruined but that is not what happened.  Instead of ruination,  the lemon filling (homemade, natch—Ina doesn't play), got extra creamy, making the bars especially outstanding.  I tried deliberately in other years to get the same result and was close but nothing like the first time.  Also?  The Almond Bon-Bons (a Betty Crocker recipe) I referenced earlier have been renamed the "Boo Boo Bon-Bons" because I accidentally used the entire package of almond paste instead of half.  They are off the chart almondy-good and are an annual staple.  Both recipes are on this blog under "December recipes" but I forget which year I made them so you'll have to look, starting with December 2008.

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