GARTEN, INA. Barefoot Contessa, How Easy Is That? New York: Clarkson Potter/Publishers, 2010. ISBN: 978-0-307-23876-4. Pp. 256. $35.00.
I know next to nothing about Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa. I've never seen her show or dipped into any of her other bestselling cookbooks. My impression has always been that she's a cuddlier, browner-haired, no-jail-time version of Martha Stewart. Which is fine. Martha Stewart kind of scares me anyway. After reading (as far as that goes with a cookbook) Barefoot Contessa, How Easy Is That?, I realize that, amazingly, I really am dead-on. "My kitchen," she writes at the beginning of the book, "is like a big sandbox--there's always something interesting to do there and it's filled with my friends". Garten's life is full of "playdates," "fabulous people," "brilliant photographers," and "gorgeous props". Group hug!
Joking aside, the recipes, while not exactly healthful, really are quite simple and delicious. Because I only cook for myself and my partner or my father, I was not able to go through and systematically make every single recipe in the book over the course of one week, nor would I really want to. Instead, I chose a dish from each chapter and prepared it, with varying results. I should mention that I'm a very nervous cook. I find that I'm not terribly good at multitasking, which is what cooking is all about. Still, here's what I made and how it turned out:
From the "Cocktails" chapter I made Garten's "Savory coeur à la crème" for an office holiday potluck. It took about three minutes to prepare and then I stuck it in the fridge to solidify over night. I also spent about ten minutes cleaning up cream cheese splatter from my clothes and the kitchen counter. Because I couldn't find a coeur à la crème mold, unsurprisingly, I followed Garten's advise and lined a strainer with some cheese cloth. Well, it came out looking like a white, cream cheesy brain, which I camouflaged by pouring a jar of chutney on top (don't worry, that was part of the recipe). It was okay. A tad too salty, but Koch liked it.
I admit that I didn't really make the "Watermelon & arugula salad" because I couldn't find watermelon or arugula at the grocery store. So I just tossed some lettuce together and made Garten's dressing to go with it. Someday I'll make it up to her and prepare the salad properly. For now, I'll just say that I tried. (I also didn't make any of the dishes in the "Lunch" chapter.)
For dinner (which I actually served for lunch), I made Garten's delicious "Weeknight bolognese," which would have been a little bit more perfect if I hadn't accidentally put four times the oregano than the recipe actually calls for. Oops. Despite this faux pas, the dish was really quite good, a spicier version of what most of us are used to. Koch's reaction was: "Why don't you cook like this more often?" Seconds all around.
Yesterday I made the "Tuscan white beans" for lunch. It's the first time I've ever cooked or eaten fennel, the root, so it was kind of an exciting and scary moment for us. When we went to the only grocer open on Christmas day, we had to ask if they had it because we had no idea what it looked like. Also, the recipe calls for "stalks, fronds, and core removed," which left me confused, because those seem to be all the parts of the root. We managed, despite this set back. And it was pretty good. Again, a bit too salty. I forgot that store-bought chicken stock is already well salted.
For dessert I made the "Chocolate hazelnut cookies," which calls for sandwiching the cookies with Nutella. Having a jar of Nutella in the house is a dangerous thing, so I forewent this extra step and just made the sugar cookies as is. They came out looking like sad, fat, and unrecognizable Christmas trees. They tasted better in dough form, but I bet they would have tasted even better than that with the Nutella from the original recipe.
Overall, I would say the reason why so many of my recipes failed had less to do with the cookbook than with the cook. Still, this piece could have used more actual vegetable recipes. Polenta does not belong in the vegetable section, but that's where you'll find it here. Probably because it's made of corn. Then again, so is cornbread.