The Barefoot Contessa Go-To Dinners Review
The theme Ina Garten's Go-To Dinners
I recently read the headline for an interview with Ina Garten that described what she has built as a "calming culinary empire." That's pretty astute. I've been watching her since her first days on Food Network, when she was demonstrating how to cater a Hamptons-style gallery opening and I was coiffing Two Buck Chuck on a thrift store sofa. I watched her show dutifully and bought her books throughout my stressful, chaotic, and ambitious 20s, if only because she provided a lantern light for how to entertain other adults when I was, admittedly, maybe not that much of one myself.
I would venture that most women my age have, in many ways, matured under the kind tutelage of The Barefoot Contessa. Our wedding showers, baby showers, tailgates, holiday celebrations, and Friday-night cocktails are truly the better for it, too. Now, in my middle years, we use her cookbooks to teach our children kitchen skills. Her recipes are so simple and reliable that they are perfect for new cooks who are in need of a kind hand and a lot of culinary accolades. And who doesn't like Beatty's Chocolate Cake or Ina's streamlined Beef Bourguignon? It's a taste-testers' dream job when kids are at the stove.
Having by now taken the master course in all things Ina Garten has made me a bit of an expert on her cookbooks, since all of them sit so dutifully worn in my personal collection. But, what about this book in particular that makes it special? In Ina Garten's own words, she wanted to make delicious, satisfying cooking even easier than in her previous books:
"Cooking during the pandemic got pretty crazy, even for me, so I devised all kinds of ways to get dinner on the table with the least amount of stress. My new book is a collection of easy, make ahead, prep ahead, freeze ahead, and simply assembled recipes that you’ll want to make over and over again."
~ Ina Garten, from her website
That's the marketing copy for the book is classic Ina Garten (of course it is), but I think what this book accomplishes is a bit deeper than that. It's a back-to-the-basics primer for getting us to cook for others and entertain again.
Go-To Dinners is a primer for getting folks back together again.
In times of national and international strife, one of the happy constants has been the quality and consistency of Ina Garten's cookbooks. Go-to Dinners double downs on this concept with the acknowledgment that, after the difficult years of a pandemic what people need the most are to feel heard, seen, and loved by their family and friends. In person. Preferably with a plate of comforting macaroni and cheese or a slice of Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie in hand.
I don't know about you, but I've noticed I'm not as great about being around people as I used to be. It can seem a bit awkward at times - much like learning how to not cuss out loud (as much) now that I'm back in the office with my coworkers. It's learning how to relax and trust in your cooking skills when others are coming to dinner. Or to not sarcastically joke about where that third fork might go on Thanksgiving dinner table. Lastly, and this is important, not everyone likes bluegrass music. My point is that we could all use a little refresher on our social and party hosting skills before we've fully back at 100% pre-pandemic party levels.
Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie, Ina Garten's Go-To Dinners
And this is the beauty of Ina Garten and her Go-to Dinners cookbook. It's a blueprint for crafting lovely get-togethers so we can get used to actually getting together without all the hassle and worry about recreating a 3-star Michelin menu. Be casual. Serve a dish that makes you and your friends feel like they are getting a warm hug. It's okay. Comfort food will always be in style and your people will love you for serving it, but also feel free to get a bit creative as well by adding some new spins to old favorites.
Overnight Mac & Cheese, Ina Garten's Go-To Dinners
But, how are the recipes?
Honestly, there isn't a recipe in this book that I'm not tempted to make, but I also feel as though this is a moot question. It's Ina Garten - of course the recipes are well tested and developed in a rigorous process. Of course the book is a balance of recipes that showcase a pragmatic balance of recipes and flavors. Think citrus, cheese, roasted chicken, chocolate, lemon, lobster, and avocado...and my two particular loves: fennel and fresh dill.
The magic of her cookbooks is that she allows the reader to see themselves in her recipes - I see my own pragmatic style of cooking there. But, also an elevated version of my cooking. I see fresh lobster and Blood oranges, but I also see ingredients from Costco, premade pie shells, and egg-based dishes that will make cooking faster and easier. Her cookbooks are this fantastic mélange of dreamy and practical, featuring fresh ingredients from the grocery store, the garden, the farmers' market, and the boutique gourmet store. It's how we want to eat today.
Asparagus Cacio e Pepe, Ina Garten's Go-To Dinners
The summary review of Ina Garten's Go-To Dinners
Go-to Dinners is classic Ina Garten and the world is better for it. Go buy it. Heck, buy it for all your friends and family for the holidays. The gift of good food is the gift of love.