Fifteen years ago, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook was published which was our introduction to Ina Garten and the food she once prepared at her specialty food store in East Hampton, New York. She just released her ninth cookbook, Make It Ahead. With a show on The Food Network since 2002 and multiple cookbooks between, Ina has achieved the kind of fame which allows you to be referred to on a first name basis. Just call her, Ina.
Could she have imagined where her books and television show would take her? I for one am glad to have been along for the ride. I admit to being a big fan and to owning all of her cookbooks, although most of the recipes I repeat are from her earliest ones (see my favorites at the end of the post).
When Ina released her seventh book, How Easy is That?, she promoted it through traditional book signings and stopped in the Boston area. Some friends and I decided to go, thinking if Ina just met us in person, she would invite us to East Hampton for some dinner and a glass of wine! I mean, doesn’t everyone want to get invited to Ina’s barn?!!!
We couldn’t have been more excited and waited patiently for 3 hours (with several hundred others who all wanted to be invited to the Hamptons, and a lovely couple from Connecticut who purchased 9 copies for their family!). When we finally got our 22 seconds with Ina, it was rainbows and unicorns for all of us. If you haven’t been to a book signing of this nature, your time at the front of the line goes very quickly. The book is opened to the page she signs, you hand it to the person who puts it in front of her, you say hello, I love you Ina and I make your Indonesian Ginger chicken every night of the week and then you leave in a cloud (9) of dust.
My time with Ina might have actually been 25 seconds because I gave her a copy of The Gaining Ground cookbook which I mentioned in my post about Roasted Eggplant Parmesan. It had just been published and I figured why not? You know what? I got an email from her assistant, Barbara the following week thanking me for the book and for waiting in line. Imagine! I do wonder if that book ever inspired her and if it remains in her cookbook library, a picture of which she shares in Make it Ahead (yes, I have tried to zoom in and no I didn’t see it!).
In all seriousness, our flash with Ina revealed that she is the real deal – her personality was as authentic in person as it appears on television. This picture from the signing really says it all…
With her most recent books, Foolproof and now Make it Ahead, Ina has shaken up her approach to touring. In addition to her usual stops such as The Today Show, she has scheduled five appearances where she is “in conversation” with a culinary professional who interviews her in front of a live audience. Autographed cookbooks are available for pre-order and pick up at the venue where she is “speaking”.
My cousins and I attended her appearance at Symphony Hall in Boston this past week and Ina may be short in height but she is long in personality! Quick witted, funny and smart, she is still the person you see on television and yes, she said, Jeffrey is her “real” husband in addition to being her “television” husband (she once got asked that silly question). The mention of Jeffrey Garten got a huge round of applause from the enthusiastic audience. And she got a big laugh when she shared that Jeffrey, who always compliments her cooking went so far as to once say a cup of tea she made him was the best cup of tea EVER to which she replied, “really Jeffrey – it’s hot water and a tea bag”. Who doesn’t love Jeffrey?!
While the interview and audience questions didn’t reveal anything particularly new about Ina (except that she films her show in two, three week periods – wow), I did once again take away that she is such a special person. She is comfortable in her skin, happy with her life and interested in sharing her positivity with her fans. She has evolved as a cook while keeping to her basic principle that food doesn’t need to be fancy or trendy to be really delicious and satisfying (she is glad the “foam” trend is over and would probably order chicken, surprise, in a restaurant). She loves what she does and that has been the key to her success. And she wants to share that love with us so we can host dinner parties or cook delicious food for our loved ones without the stress it can sometimes bring.
This past week, I decided to test recipes exclusively from Ina’s new book. I have never “power dated” a cookbook like this so it was interesting and fun at the same time. I tried to use recipes that fit into our life, although I did give some of the food away to friends. Of the dozen or so recipes I tried, some were truly fantastic. Some were not as memorable, but they all had Ina’s signature on them.
The book definitely has some recipes which are reminiscent of prior books and her make ahead tips are good, but some are just common sense. One surprise for me was that I found a couple of the dishes salty (and my palate is accustomed to highly seasoned food from culinary school training). Critics have mentioned Ina’s dishes are salty in the past but I haven’t found that to be the case until this book. I was happy to see that Ina shared a teensy bit more of her personal story with some of the recipe introductions (there is mention of her father in his later years). Overall, I am glad I purchased the book and do look forward to trying out some more of the recipes.
Here’s how “My week with Ina Garten” played out.
Ina says, “they never remember what you served for dinner but they always remember what you served for dessert!”. I brought two desserts to a dinner party hosted by a friend who happens to follow a gluten free regime. I made Decadent (Gluten Free) Chocolate Cake and Vanilla Semifreddo with Raspberry Sauce.
Yum, yum and yum.
My friends took one bite of the semifreddo, a frozen custard made with eggs, sugar, vanilla and cream, and asked, what is this?! The raspberry sauce was easy (although virtually a repeat of a recipe that appears in her Back to Basics book). The cake was fudgy, dense and very rich.
Vanilla Semi-Freddo ready to go into the freezer
Unmolded and ready to be sliced and plated with the sauce and fresh raspberries (not the prettiest picture but it does soften quickly so pictures not the priority!)
I transported the raspberry sauce in a ball jar and am thinking this would make a really nice hostess gift for the holidays…
Ganache topping adds another layer of decadence to the cake…
I will definitely make both of these again.
Next up, Tomato, Mozzarella Pan Bagnat for a weekend lunch with my husband. Reminiscent of a Provencal sandwich that usually includes tuna, Ina makes this one vegetarian with ingredients that are right up our alley. The sandwich is assembled and then toasted in a panini press. Tomato, mozzarella, a lot of basil in our case and a vinaigrette studded with olives and capers make this an incredibly flavorful sandwich.
My husband loved it and I thought it was delicious, but a little salty. Since the vinaigrette has mustard in addition to the olives and capers, I would cut back by half of her recommended salt. Otherwise, a winner.
Next up, my sister-in-law, Jen came to dinner. Jen loves hummus so I tried out Ina’s Roasted Red Pepper Hummus to nibble while we were watching the football game. Ina adds a hint of Sriracha which gives it some heat. The flavors intensified as it sat in the fridge during the week. I served it with some homemade lavash chips and would definitely make it again…
For dinner, I served Herbed Pork Tenderloin with Apple Chutney, Gingered Basmati Rice and Carrot & Cauliflower Puree. Ina mentioned in her appearance that she created some of these recipes as “make aheads” because based on her experience as a specialty foods store owner, she knows dishes needed to taste good, if not better a day later. I would say that was definitely the case for the rice and the puree. Both were tasty enough when newly made, but were more intense in flavor after they had sat for a bit.
Apple Chutney, flavored with orange juice, apple cider vinegar, mustard seeds, brown sugar and a pinch of red pepper flakes.
The pork is rubbed with olive oil and coated with salt, pepper, chopped fresh rosemary and thyme. Proscuitto slices are wrapped around the tenderloin and then tied. This can all be done ahead, wrapped and then stored in the refrigerator until it’s time to make dinner. Ina says the remaining instructions for a do-ahead meal should fit on a post-it note.
The pork was outstanding and the proscuitto crisped up while keeping the meat incredibly moist and juicy. Ina made this dish on The Today Show and the link to that recipe and a few more can be found here.
(PS – My husband asked why I sliced the pork into thick slices and I quickly replied that “Ina told me to”. Ha! My husband definitely knows who Ina is!)
Ina says Gingered Basmati Rice “is no ordinary rice”, and while it was tasty and got better after a day in the fridge, I didn’t think it was extraordinary. Having said that, it is a great dish to have in your arsenal when you want a light starch that will go with just about any protein.
The Carrot & Cauliflower puree was good but I am not sure I would make it again as written. The flavors were definitely much better after it had sat for a bit, but the recipe serves 5-6 and calls for 1 stick of butter that is browned (which is the whole point of the recipe as Ina tries to replicate the flavor of a dish she had in Paris). Despite its importance to the dish, I would cut back the butter to maybe four Tablespoons and also cut the salt just a bit too.
Herb-Roasted Fish might have been my favorite dish of the week because it was easy, had great flavor and presented beautifully in its parchment envelope. I don’t usually have extravagant lunches, but I really wanted to give this recipe a try and early afternoon on Tuesday proved to be a good time! I used red snapper (the other suggestion was cod). The fish is drizzled with olive oil, lemon juice, fresh thyme, salt and pepper. Two olives are added and the fish is enclosed in parchment which keeps it incredibly moist. This dish would also be ideal for a dinner party because the packets make a great impression with just a little bit of work. Although Ina suggests you can make the packets a day ahead, I think I would rather assemble them right before cooking time. The only thing I would change in her recipe is to cut back on the salt just a bit (she suggests 1/2 teaspoon per fillet and I would use 1/4 teaspoon).
In the Breakfast chapter, these Blueberry Bran Muffins caught my attention. You can make the batter a day ahead and then scoop the batter into tins and bake off in the morning which I did. Wheat bran, yogurt and honey are the key ingredients. I gave a couple to my neighbor, Helen who loves her muffins and the ladies I play tennis with on Wednesdays. Helen loved their texture and gave them five stars! If you were visiting family or friends overnight for Thanksgiving, this could be a fun way to make a contribution to your hostess. Bring batter!
And lastly, on Thursday I had a meeting with my web designer, Lorell to discuss important things like Pinterest and business cards! You can’t have someone to your home without offering them some food so I made us a little snack – Bruschettas with Sauteed Chard…
Rainbow chard is blanched and then sauteed with some garlic and put on toast that has also been rubbed with garlic. The dish is finished with lemon zest, lemon juice, Parmesan cheese, olive oil and fleur de sel. We enjoyed them and Lorell suggested a spread of sundried tomato pesto under the chard might heighten the flavor further which I thought was a great idea.
So, that’s it – “My week with Ina Garten”. Several of the new recipes are floating out there online already and are sure to grow in number as she shares them through her show or as bloggers test them out. I have some thoughts on where I’d like to see her tenth cookbook to go (she is working on it already). But I’ll wait for another time – this post is long enough!
Below, I’ve listed some of my favorite Ina recipes from the archives and included links where possible.
Now, I am exhausted and am going to order take out tonight! As Ina often says at the end of her show, “Have Fun”!
Some of my favorite Ina Garten recipes:
Mashed Butternut Squash, Barefoot Contessa Family Style. It is this recipe, pureed with 1/4 cup half and half