Barefoot Contessa at Home: Everyday Recipes You’ll Make Over and Over Again

By Ina Garten

Barefoot Contessa at Home

Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers

Before testing this book I have to admit that it already had a spot on my cookbook VIP shelf above the stove, based on a handful of recipes that have been part of my repertoire for years (I make the Sunday Morning Oatmeal with my daughter at least once a week). But I thought it would be interesting to test the book nonetheless, making three dishes that I have never prepared before. The fact that almost every recipe received perfect scores confirms what I already knew: Ina Garten’s cookbooks belong in everyone’s kitchen.

In 1978 Ina Garten bought an East Hamptons specialty food store on a whim, despite not having any formal culinary training. She quickly turned it into a successful seventh heaven for food lovers. Eighteen years later she sold the store and wrote her first cookbook, based on recipes used in the Barefoot Contessa store. In 2002 she started hosting her own show on the Foodnetwork, and has truly become an icon for many home and professional chefs. Not bad for a former White House nuclear policy analyst!

I once heard Ina’s recipes described as “simple, yet classy”. How very true! Her recipes are always unassuming, simple in appearance and method with an explosion of taste. She’s not afraid to use a whack load o’ butter not just for the sake of using a lot of butter, but because it makes the food taste better. And at the end of the day that’s what I’m all about: good tasting food that’s simple to prepare and smells phenomenal the moment you walk through the door.

‘Home’ is the overall theme for this book and Ina achieves it tremendously, weaving it through the pages with gorgeous photos of her home, wonderful ideas for simple entertaining, and a running commentary about what ‘home’ means to her and how she achieves it through her cooking and the organization of her house. I love how her recipes have a timeless quality to them, and I know that my children (and maybe even their children) could make these recipes and have them fit right in with the current culinary times.

Granted this cookbook is heavy on the desserts section and some of the recipes might be considered a little too basic for more seasoned chefs, but for a new cook wanting to stretch their culinary muscles this book is perfect! It provides you with delicious, good solid comfort food without being pretentious. I also like how at the back of the book she includes a number of menu ideas, an addition which many people will no doubt find inspiring when putting together a dinner party.

Throughout this book Ina guides you through the process of setting your table, planning a menu, and creating a particular ambience when entertaining. She takes the idea of ‘food’ beyond the actual cuisine you put in your mouth, transforming it into an experience to be shared with family and friends.

At the beginning of her book Ina describes her work with recipe development as “playing”, and that’s exactly how I felt when cooking from this book. I got to play! Even after the three recipe tests were completed, I continued to ‘play’ and made the Peanut Butter & Jelly Bars, Coconut Cake, Chocolate Cupcakes & Peanut Butter Icing, and Frozen Berries with Hot White Chocolate…all of which were fantastic!

Chicken Salad Véronique

RATING: 5 out of 5

CeleryTHE TEST: This salad literally took a nanosecond to throw together! Instead of roasting chicken breasts in the oven as Ina instructs, I cheated and used two rotisserie chickens. This definitely sped up the process and tasted just as good. Some of the grapes were a little oddly shaped as my three-year old helped prep them with the wooden knife from her play kitchen. But I knew this wouldn’t affect the yum factor of the salad!

As a side note, the word ‘Véronique’ means a recipe whose ingredients include grapes.

THE RESULTS: This salad is now Mr. Spock’s favourite chicken salad ever! He raved about everything from the freshness of the grapes, to the subtle anise-like flavour of the tarragon, to the crunch of the celery. There was nothing he didn’t like about this salad. Our kids also loved this meal, although in the end we noticed that a suspicious amount of grapes ended up on their plates. Oh and in case you were wondering…I liked it too!

Roast Chicken

People who have an aversion to the taste of licorice will not enjoy the tarragon, but I’m sure the herb could be replaced with basil or oregano if you preferred. I found the green grapes imparted a nice sharpness to the salad which would be missing with red grapes, plus their colour complimented the green of the celery and tarragon for a fantastic presentation.

Green GrapesFresh Tarragon

We happened to eat the salad by itself, but I could see how it would be delicious as a sandwich too. Will definitely have to try that next time, along with the addition of some toasted pecans (which Ina listed as a possible option for added crunch).

Yet another classic and delicious recipe courtesy of the Barefoot Contessa!


Fresh Pea Soup with Garlic Croutons

RATING: 4 out of 5

THE TEST: Okay I am totally LOVING Ina Garten’s approach to cooking: easy, easy and easier! Seriously, if you are a parent looking for quick and easy weekday meal ideas to serve your familyPeas that are just as wholesome and delicious as they are fast, go the Barefoot Contessa route. I can’t even tell you how quickly this soup came together for me. It was ridiculously easy to make and I loved how it used only fresh ingredients (most of which I already had on hand so I didn’t even have to make a trip to the store).
You can use either shelled fresh peas or frozen. I ended up going the frozen route as I had a bag in the freezer and I was short on time. Also, I didn’t have any crème fraîche so I substituted sour cream instead (both dairy products can be used interchangeably in most recipes). Rather than puréeing the soup in a blender in small batches, I opted to use my immersion blender directly in the pot which worked great, took less time, plus I didn’t have an entire blender to clean afterwards.
LeeksGarlic Croutons

THE RESULTS: This soup was incredibly light and refreshing, a wonderful meal for the summer months. But because we are now headed into fall, I found myself wishing for something heartier like a split pea soup.

Both Mr. Spock and I thought the garlic croutons were amazing and complimented the soup beautifully. Normally I just toss my cubed bread (usually focaccia) with olive oil and salt and pepper and throw them in the oven to crisp, but I loved the garlicky taste achieved by Ina’s method of sautéing a clove of garlic in a pan with some olive oil before toasting the bread directly in the pan. Delicious, although more work than using the oven.

Fresh Pea Soup with Garlic CroutonsEven though we knew the recipe called for chopped mint, the taste still took Mr. Spock and me by surprise but the unexpected flavour grew on us. What we really loved the most about this dish was the extreme vibrant colour that was imbued by all of the fresh herbs, peas and leeks. Absolutely gorgeous!

Ultimate Ginger Cookie

RATING: 5 out of 5

GingerTHE TEST: Usually when I decide to make a batch of cookies it is based on a whim, but once my mind’s made up I become obsessed with the idea and very impatient! So Ina’s ginger cookie recipe is perfect for people like me, because so long as you have all of the ingredients on hand it is incredibly easy and quick to make.

The dough was very dry and crumbly, making me skeptical as to how this could in any way have a super moist interior as promised. I found it a little frustrating to mix in the ginger because of the dryness of the dough, but despite all of my doubts I held faith in Ina and pressed onwards. The way I see it, she has never failed me yet!

I ended up being ¼ cup shy of the recommended amount of ginger, but in the end I wouldn’t have wanted any more than that.

Candied Ginger

THE RESULTS: Both Mr. Spock and I are in agreement that this recipe is appropriately titled the ultimateginger cookie, as it was by far one of the best we’ve ever had!

Warning: this cookie is not for the ginger faint of heart, as it is chock-full of gingery goodness that can be overpowering if you are not a fan of this particular tuber. For people like my mother-in-law this cookie would be love at first bite, but others may want to limit the amount of ginger. But then again, if you’re not a fan of ginger why would you be making a ginger cookie?!