My Chat with Ina Garten
Hi friends! I promise this post is going to be about Ina Garten (as you can probably tell from the title!). But first, I want to write you all a little note to apologize for my infrequent blog posts the past couple of weeks. If you follow me on Instagram or FB – or if you've seen me recently! – you know that life has been just a tad crazy. I flew back to NYC from Nashville this afternoon – I had to push back my flight 3 times in order to finish all the book shipping! (Thank you, Southwest!) I confess: I am exhausted. In the past two weeks, I've thrown 3 book parties for 250 people, shipped out over 1500 books, ran a booth at a book expo, done 2 TV appearances, met with book buyers and publishers, and tried my best to keep up with freelance writing. But the good news is, the shipping is done!! With the exception of some orders in Nashville and NYC that I'm going to have available for pick-up this weekend (news on this coming shortly), all of the books are en route to you! I'm so relieved I could cry!!
Of course, I didn't do this alone. I've had a village of amazing friends helping me every step of the way – none more than my incredible mom this past week. She's been my rock, helping with everything from party-throwing to book-packing, to calming me down when I'm on the verge of a meltdown (!), and she managed to round up an army of volunteers to help us pack and ship all the books. We literally turned my parents' kitchen and garage into a packing and shipping center for 3 straight days, and she did it all with a smile on her face. I wish I had her energy sometimes!
But enough about shipping (I'll share more in a later post)! Today, I want to talk about my entertaining hero, Ina Garten, a.k.a. Barefoot Contessa, who I recently had the privilege of interviewing for Tasting Table. I love everything about Ina: her easy-to-make, always-delicious recipes, her warm personality, and her stress-free take on entertaining. I bought her book Barefoot Contessa Parties! back in 2001 when I was just getting into cooking, and I not only read it cover-to-cover, but I cooked nearly every recipe in it (and many of them multiple times!). I've tried to adopt her mantra when I entertain – to do as much in advance as possible before a dinner party so you can actually enjoy spending time with your guests – though I confess, the procrastinator in me often thwarts my best intentions.
Ina has a new book out called Make It Ahead that hones in on this topic, with step-by-step instructions on what you can prep ahead, assemble ahead, or make entirely ahead. In the book, she helps you get a game plan on how you can minimize stress in the hour before the party (which is usually my freak-out time), by listing your last-minute steps on a Post-It Note. Meaning, you shouldn't be doing anything complicated in that last hour – merely reheating an already-made dish, tossing a salad with vinaigrette, lighting candles, or putting out already-assembled hors d'oeuvres. I love this woman.
It's always been my dream to meet Ina, and even though that hasn't happened (YET!), I was over-the-moon to get a chance to talk with her by phone. I wanted to get the nitty gritty on her new book, her best "make ahead tricks," as well as the scoop on whether or not she ever has kitchen meltdowns. We set a time to talk, and I was so nervous leading up to the call, I had to do some deep breathing exercises to calm down before I dialed her number! I mean...talking to your hero is pretty nerve-wracking, especially when you (not-so-)secretly want to be friends.
I needn't have worried. Ina was as nice as I'd hope, and within a few minutes, we were both laughing and swapping dinner party stories. With no further ado, here's some snippets from our chat:
ME: Hi Ina! I have to say, I'm a huge fan of yours. I've read nearly all your books, and I especially LOVE Barefoot Contessa Parties! That book inspired me to start throwing dinner parties.
INA: Thank you!
ME: I love your new book Make It Ahead, and all of the fantastic tips you offer on how to make meals almost entirely in advance. What's your go-to fall dinner party meal that can be made ahead?
INA: I love making the slow-cooked spiced pork. I serve it with a winter slaw and corn bread, and my maple baked beans from Barefoot Contessa at Home. The pork and beans cook all day in the oven. People go crazy over it. It's completely made in advance – all I have to do before the meal is shave some Parmesan on the slaw, and even that can sit for awhile. Before guests arrive, I literally have nothing to do. I feel like I should [have something to do], but I don't! (Laughs.)
ME: In your book, you have a lot of recipes that can be made almost entirely in advance, and then just finished before the party. Tell me a few of your favorite examples of these finish-before-the-party dishes.
INA: For my NY Strip Steaks, I make the seasoning ahead of time and rub it on. Before the party, all I have to do is grill the steaks: 2 minutes on one side, two minutes on the other, then I let it sit for 8 minutes on the cooler part of the grill. For my Provencal Stew, I make the soup in advance and just reheat and add in the seafood before serving. A lot of people like to make everything in advance, but it often tastes better to wait and finish it just before serving. The key is that you don't want to look at any recipes in the final hour before your party. Have the last-minute instructions written on a Post-It Note.
ME: That is such a brilliant idea. I am totally adopting that for my next dinner party! So one of my favorite dishes in your new cookbook is your brilliant make-ahead Roast Chicken with Arugula and Bread. Tell me a bit about the inspiration behind that dish?
INA: The roast chicken was inspired by two other dishes I really like. On the show I cook with a chef from The Standard Grill. He roasted a chicken on a bed of bread at a high temperature; the chicken juices soaked into the bread and made these delicious croutons. I was also inspired by Judy Rodger’s iconic roast chicken, and her arugula bread salad at Zuni Café. This recipe is great because you have a whole meal in one dish!
ME: I cannot wait to try this. Sounds so delicious! You are always so calm, cool, and collected when it comes to entertaining. What’s your secret?
INA: I plan everything out hour-by-hour: 2 hours ahead, 1 hour ahead, etc. As you make a game plan, you start to think: ‘Oh I’m going to need 2 ovens for this menu…’ Think it out carefully and you’ll realize potential problems in advance. Also, I try and balance my menu between make-ahead dishes and fast, at-the-last-minute recipes. I try and include something that cooks in the oven, something on the stovetop, and an easily assembled dish like a cheese course or a salad.
ME: I totally agree. Creating a game plan is essential! So I love in your book when you tell the story about your annual New Year’s Eve midnight dinners, in Paris nonetheless! (Which, by the way is my favorite city!). How in the world did you figure out how to go out and celebrate New Year’s Eve, and come home to a ready-made homemade feast?!
INA: Sheer desperation! (Laughs.) We all love to go to these little bars in the neighborhood to celebrate, but at 11:30 pm, everyone expected dinner on the table. So I started to make things in advance, leaving just a few last-minute finishing touches to do when I get home. It’s like magic – we get home and 20 minutes later, dinner is on the table! They’re all like, ‘How did you do it?!’
ME: So I have to ask, do you ever have any kitchen meltdowns? You always seem so perfectly poised!
INA: Well, Jeffrey knows he can’t talk to me 20 minutes before guests arrive! (Laughs.) Unless you are a restaurant chef, cooking for a crowd can be really stressful. I once had a dinner party dessert that didn’t work out, so I rummaged in the refrigerator to try and find a quick replacement. I grabbed some crème fraiche and stirred in some honey and vanilla and topped it with raspberries. It was so delicious – I added it to my repertoire!
ME: Finally, I am curious: as busy as you are with writing books and being on TV, how often do you actually entertain at home?
INA: All the time! I don’t tend to cook at night since I’m recipe-testing all day, but I usually have friends over every weekend. And I still love to cook for my husband!
ME: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me! It’s been an absolute pleasure, and I can’t wait to try out some of the recipes in your new book.
INA: Thank you so much! Why don’t you come over and cook with me one of these days?
ME: (Speechless) Um…yes, please!!!
OK, so the last two lines didn’t happen (haha…were you freaking out a little bit?!?) BUT the rest of the interview was just as lovely as it seemed, and it was absolutely a highlight of my career to get a chance to interview someone I admire so much. I’m still holding out to get a chance to cook with her one day…and you better believe I’ll feature it on the blog if I’m ever that lucky!