Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Cookbooks are so much fun to read. Every author will have different approaches and even provide differing recipes for the same dish. The comparisons are fascinating. Today, I'm marinating chicken in the old "fireman's barbecue" sauce. Over times, I've collected a variety of recipes for this single sauce, and it's fun to experiment, compare, and finally select the one I like best. Same with cookbooks. . . .

In essence, the author, Ina Garten, lays out her approach in the following quotations (both from Page 11): ". . .I don't see any reason why we can't buy perfectly good ingredients in a grocery store, cook them simply, and serve an absolutely delicious meal that will delight everyone at the table." And, "What truly fires my imagination is taking ordinary ingredients and cooking them--or pairing them--in a way that `unlocks' their true flavors." She also argues strongly in favor of cooking by the season, since different foods are at their most flavorful at different times. Earlier, I quoted her as saying that certain ingredients unlock flavor. Among the "unlockers," she says, are Reggiano Parmesan cheese, wine vinegar, freshly squeezed lemon juice, Pernod, coffee, cream, etc.

Throughout the book, Garten scatters "Top 10" lists, such as the "10 No-cook things to serve with drinks," "Top 10 Flavor Boosters," and "10 Things Not to Serve at a Dinner Party."

But let's take a look at some of the recipes. I enjoy Potato Leek Soup, and have tried out several different recipes (enjoying all). Garten adds a new one to my collection. One ingredient that distinguishes hers from others is the use of arugula. Delicious.

Her "Creamy Cucumber Salad" is another little treasure, featuring hothouse cucumbers, red onions, yogurt, sour cream, vinegar, dill, and black pepper. I have not yet made this, but find that it sounds delightful as a starter for a meal.

"Coq au Vin" is one of my favorite tried and true French recipes. Garten provides her recipe, basing it on a Beef Bourguignon (as her produce once said, triggering the experiment, "Well, [coq au vin] is just beef bourguignon with chicken." Boy, this sounds interesting, richer than the normal recipe that I use.

Finally, one more example, "Parmesan-Roasted Broccoli." I try out a lot of broccoli dishes, and varying how I prepare them, from steaming to grilling to stir frying. Her version features roasting broccoli with pine nuts, parmesan cheese, and basil leaves.

All in all, a fine cookbook. Garten lays out her views on cooking at the outset and then illustrates how to implement those views in her recipe collection. People who want to create tasty dishes without major hassles will find this a good cookbook to add to their collection.

About the Author:

Ina Rosenberg Garten (born February 2, 1948) is an American author and host of the Food Network program Barefoot Contessa. Known for creating fine cuisine foods with an emphasis on quality ingredients and timesaving tips, she has been championed by Martha Stewart, Oprah Winfrey, and Patricia Wells as an authority on cooking and home entertaining.

Garten had no formal training; she taught herself culinary techniques with the aid of French and New England cookbooks. Later, she relied on intuition and feedback from customers and friends to refine her recipes. She was mentored chiefly by Eli Zabar, of Eli's Manhattan and Eli's Breads fame, and domestic maven Stewart. Among her hallmark dishes are cœur à la crème, celery root remoulade, pear clafouti, and a simplified version of bœuf bourguignon. Her culinary career began with her gourmet food store, Barefoot Contessa; Garten parlayed this success into a string of best-selling cookbooks, magazine columns, self-branded convenience foods, and a popular Food Network television show.

The consistent use of the original store name through Garten's books, television show, and product line has led fans to refer to her as simply "the Contessa".

Early history and career

Born Ina Rosenberg in Brooklyn, New York, and raised in Stamford, Connecticut, Garten was one of two children born to Charles H. Rosenberg, a surgeon specializing in otolaryngology, and his wife, Florence.[1] Strongly encouraged to excel in school, she showed an aptitude for science and often won top honors in local science fairs. Garten's mother, an intellectual with an interest in opera, refused her daughter's requests to assist her in the kitchen and instead directed her to concentrate on schoolwork. Garten described her father as a lively individual with many friends, and has commented that she shares more characteristics with him than with her mother.[2] At 15, she met her future husband, Jeffrey Garten, on a trip to visit her brother at Dartmouth College.[1] After a year of exchanging letters, they began dating. After high school, she attended Syracuse University with plans to study fashion design, but chose to change her major to economics. Shortly thereafter, she postponed her educational pursuits to marry.

On December 22, 1968, Rosenberg and Garten were married in Stamford, and soon relocated to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. She began to dabble in cooking and entertaining in an effort to occupy her time while her husband served his four-year military tour as a paratrooper during the Vietnam War; she also acquired her pilot's license, according to an interview she gave to the Raleigh News & Observer.[3] After completing his tour, the couple journeyed to Paris, France, for a four-month camping vacation that Garten has described as the birth of her love for French cuisine. During this trip, she experienced open-air markets, produce stands, and fresh cooking ingredients for the first time.[4] Upon returning to the U.S., she began to cultivate her culinary abilities by studying the volumes of Julia Child's seminal cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.[4] Her weekly dinner party tradition began taking shape during this time, and she refined her home entertaining skills when she and her husband moved to Washington, D.C., in 1972.

In Washington, Garten worked in the White House and took business courses at George Washington University, eventually earning an MBA,[5] while her husband worked in the State Department and completed his graduate studies. Originally employed as a low-level government aide, she climbed the political ladder and was assigned the position of budget analyst, which entailed writing the nuclear energy budget and policy papers on nuclear centrifuge plants for then-Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.[6][7]

Strained by the pressures of her work and the serious, high-power setting of Washington, Garten once again turned to cooking and entertaining in her free time, constantly arranging dinner parties and soirées at her home on the weekends. Meanwhile, she was buying, refurbishing, and reselling homes for profit ("flipping") in the Dupont Circle and Kalorama neighborhoods.[6] The funds from these sales gave Garten the means to make her next purchase, the Barefoot Contessa specialty food emporium.

Ina will host Saturday Night Live on November 22 with musical guest Beyonce.

Barefoot Contessa

[edit] Barefoot Contessa store

Garten left her government job in 1978 after spotting an ad for a 400-square-foot (37 m2) specialty food store in Westhampton Beach, New York. The store was named Barefoot Contessa. "My job in Washington was intellectually exciting and stimulating but it wasn't me at all," she told The New York Times four years later.[8] She made a hasty decision to purchase the store after traveling to view it, and moved to New York to assume ownership and management. The store had been named by its original owner in tribute to the 1954 film starring Ava Gardner; Garten kept the name when she took over, as it meshed well with her idea of an "elegant but earthy" lifestyle.[9] (As of 2006[update], Garten has not seen the film.[10])

After a month of training with the original owner, she took over full ownership and management of the shop. Barefoot Contessa became extremely successful in short order, bolstered by Garten's sophisticated but simple dishes, her self-branded line of gourmet coffees (manufactured by Eli Zabar), and party catering services.
Storefront of Barefoot Contessa at 46 Newtown Lane in East Hampton, New York, now defunct

While doing much of the cooking herself, she employed local chefs and bakers as the business grew, including Anna Pump (who later established the Loaves & Fishes bakery and Bridgehampton Inn). Within a year, she had moved Barefoot Contessa across the street from its original location to a larger property. However, it soon outgrew this new location; in 1985, she relocated the store to the newly-vacated premises of gourmet shop Dean & DeLuca in the prosperous Long Island village of East Hampton. East Hampton was a year-round community in contrast to Westhampton's beach season atmosphere, and provided a larger, wealthier demographic.

At East Hampton, she expanded the emporium from its original 400 square feet (37 m2) to over 3,000 square feet (280 m2), over seven times its original size. In this new, larger space, the store specialized in delicacies such as lobster Cobb salad, caviar, imported cheeses, and locally grown produce. The store quickly became a landmark gathering place for the affluent New York town, to such a point that, in 2003, director Nancy Meyers chose to use the store as one of the settings for the Jack Nicholson-Diane Keaton film Something's Gotta Give.[11] The shop was also praised in the press by celebrity clientele such as Steven Spielberg and Lauren Bacall. In 1996, after two decades of owning and operating, Garten again found herself seeking a change; she sold the store to two employees, Amy Forst and Parker Hodges. Unsure of what career step to take after selling the store, she took a six-month sabbatical from the culinary scene and built offices above the shop. There, she studied the stock market and attempted to sketch out plans for potential business ventures. Her website, Barefoot Contessa, became high-profile at this time as she began offering her coffees and a few other items for purchase online.

The store was permanently closed in 2004, when the lease expired on the property and negotiations failed between Garten (the owner of the building in which Barefoot Contessa was housed) and the new owners.[12] It has been reported that her refusal to meet lease negotiations was actually a method of reclaiming control of the store after Forst and Hodges lost business to Citarella, a new competitor.[13] Ultimately, she did not reopen the shop, and instead retained the property for potential new tenants.

[edit] Barefoot Contessa cookbooks
Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

Under the guidance of her husband, Garten reemerged in 1999 with her attention turned to the publishing industry. She carried on with the Barefoot Contessa name in her 1999 sleeper bestseller, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. Filled with the recipes that made her store successful, the book far exceeded both Garten's and publisher Clarkson Potter's expectations. After an initial pressing of 35,000 copies, a typical number for a debut cookbook, it immediately required second and third print runs and eventually sold over 100,000 copies in its first year.[14] In 2001, she capitalized on her new-found fame and released Barefoot Contessa Parties!, which also produced high sales and garnered good reviews, and followed this with Barefoot Contessa Family Style in 2002. The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook and Parties! were nominated for 2000 and 2002 James Beard Awards, in the Entertaining & Special Occasion Cookbooks category. Parties! was a surprise entry, as she was considered inexperienced and untrained to compete with fellow nominees, revered French chef Jacques Pépin and international wine expert Brian St. Pierre.

Her cookbooks depart from the usual encyclopedic format most culinary tomes follow, and are instead modeled after coffee table books. Filled with color photography, with a facing full-page picture for each recipe, detractors sometimes criticize this method as it leaves less room for recipes, particularly at the comparatively steep MSRP of $35 each. Nevertheless, her cookbooks have received overall positive reviews; fellow chef Giada De Laurentiis recently named Garten as one of her favorite authors.[15] As of 2004[update], Garten's first three cookbooks have sold over 1 million copies combined.[16] She has now published a total of five cookbooks, adding Barefoot in Paris: Easy French Food You Can Make at Home (2004) and Barefoot Contessa at Home: Everyday Recipes You'll Make Over and Over Again (2006).

[edit] Barefoot Contessa on Food Network

See also: Barefoot Contessa

After the success of The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook and Barefoot Contessa Parties!, Garten was approached by Food Network with an offer to host her own television cooking show. She rejected this proposal several times, until the London-based production company responsible for the popular Nigella Bites was assigned to the deal. She acquiesced to a 13-show season, and Barefoot Contessa premiered in 2002 to a positive reception. The program focuses on hearty, guest-oriented food, and Food Network found a popular hostess in the "calm, Rubenesque" Garten.[17] The press began comparing her television presence to that of her mentor, Martha Stewart, but with a softer edge and more nurturing, comforting manner. Barefoot Contessa has approximately 1 million viewers tuned in per episode, and has posted some of Food Network's highest ratings.[1][18] In 2005, the show was nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award in the category of Best Service Show.[19]

[edit] Barefoot Contessa Pantry
Barefoot Contessa Pantry

In 2006, Garten launched her own line of packaged mixes, marinades, sauces, and preserves, branded as Barefoot Contessa Pantry, in conjunction with Stonewall Kitchen. These convenience foods are based on her most popular from-scratch recipes, such as coconut cupcakes, maple oatmeal scones, mango chutney, and lemon curd. Pricing of these items is comparatively expensive (for example, the suggested retail price for a single box of brownie mix is ten dollars) and they are only sold through upscale cookware and gourmet shops such as Crate & Barrel, Sur La Table, and Chicago's Fox & Obel Market Cafe. She plans to expand this brand in the near future if the first line of products is very successful.[20]

[edit] Influences and rise to fame

[edit] Martha Stewart and Eli Zabar

Stewart played a large role in the early development of Garten's career, championing her store, recipes, and home décor, going as far as to feature both Garten's home and one of her bakery confections on 1998 and 2001 covers of her popular magazine, Martha Stewart Living. After years of being friends and co-workers, however, the two women became bitter rivals when Stewart attempted to take credit for one of Garten's recipes. They have reportedly mended their relationship; Stewart wrote a foreword for The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, and Garten penned several columns on entertaining and cooking for Stewart's magazine. Stewart's sister, Laura Plimpton, has also been featured as a party guest on Barefoot Contessa.

Garten has credited Eli Zabar with the inspiration of her main cooking method, in which "all you have to do is cook to enhance the ingredients."[21] Under his tutelage, she refined her signature style of using high quality ingredients to reinvent and simplify classic recipes, with an emphasis on the natural flavors of foods. Zabar is famed for his gourmet market, bakery, and restaurants on New York City's Upper East Side, along with his rooftop greenhouse gardening design. He often is seen as a guest on Garten's Food Network show. She frequently recommends his baked goods and produce to her viewers and has filmed a segment on location at his flagship store, Eli's Vinegar Factory. Throughout her cookbooks, she promotes his retail products and has even included her take on some of Zabar's most popular recipes, such as shortbread cookies.

[edit] Road to stardom

In 1997, celebrity chefs and television cooking shows began to rise in popularity, driven in part by the high-profile success of Emeril Lagasse and his Emeril Live. Around this time, Food Network began capitalizing on the renewed interest in gourmet foods and cooking, and extended its reach with new shows and tie-in products. Martha Stewart also launched her television shows and accompanying magazines, cookbooks, and product lines. Periodicals such as Gourmet and Bon Appétit saw a dramatic increase in subscriptions at this time. In this wave of renewed food appreciation, Garten quietly established herself with her cookbooks and appearances on Stewart's show, and then moved into the forefront in 2002 with the debut of her Food Network program.

When Stewart was incarcerated in 2004 on charges connected with obstruction of justice in a stock trading case, the press began singling out Garten as the rising grande dame of the domestic arts.[22] After much critical acclaim and high sales of her first three cookbooks, she went on to write the best-selling Barefoot in Paris and several columns for O, The Oprah Magazine. She also serves as the entertaining, cooking, and party planning consultant for the magazine. House Beautiful, a shelter magazine, features a monthly Garten column entitled "Ask the Barefoot Contessa." In this column, she doles out cooking, entertaining, and lifestyle tips in response to letters sent in by her readers.[23] She launched a small line of note cards and journals to complement her books, and wrote the forewords for Kathleen King's Tate's Bake Shop Cookbook and Rori Trovato's Dishing With Style. One of her signature recipes, lemon roast chicken with croutons, was featured in The Best American Recipes 2005–2006. Another of Garten's dishes was selected for Today's Kitchen Cookbook, a compilation of the most popular recipes featured on the daily news program The Today Show.

In 2005, she announced that she had signed a three-year contract with Food Network to continue her cooking show, and will release two more cookbooks following Barefoot Contessa at Home. Garten was reportedly awarded the most lucrative contract for a culinary author to date, signing a multimillion dollar deal for multiple books.[24] She has also been approached several times to develop her own branded magazine, line of furniture, set of signature cookware, and chain of boutiques (reminiscent of Stewart's Omnimedia), but has declined these offers, stating she has no interest in further complicating her life. Between 2004 and 2005, Barefoot in Paris sold almost 400,000 copies and rose to the #11 slot on the New York Times bestseller list.[25]

Her sporadic public appearances and book signings usually command large audiences, with her signings (usually held in upscale bookstores or cookware shops) garnering crowds of 500 or more.[6] When she launched her Barefoot Contessa Pantry product line in early 2006, the projected turnout was 300 people for the small Fox & Obel Market. Instead, close to 2,000 fans appeared hoping to sample the new line and meet briefly with Garten. In October 2006, Garten launched a book tour of 13 states in support of Barefoot Contessa at Home, her most expansive publicity effort to date.

[edit] Personal life

[edit] Politics and opinions

Garten served as hostess of the 16th Annual Hudson Peconic benefit for Planned Parenthood, an organization focused on reproductive issues and women's health. Some consider Garten to be a gay icon, as her Food Network show frequently features appearances by her openly gay friends and their partners. Though she has made no explicit statement regarding gay rights or the gay community in general, she did write in one of her books:

"...we all know that families now aren't necessarily like Ozzie and Harriet (it turns out Ozzie and Harriet's family wasn't all Ozzie and Harriet)... family has a traditional context, but today it's not as simple as two parents with 2.3 kids... it's about relationships... it's about people who are bound together by love and a sense of being responsible for one another... it's spouses with no children, like Jeffrey and me... it's a group of women who meet to cook dinner together once a month... it's a one-parent family with adopted children... it's two men who've made a life together... at the end of the day, all we have is love... getting love, but even more, feeling love..."[26]

Registered in New York as a Democrat, Garten has contributed to the presidential campaign funds of George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, John Kerry and Barack Obama.[27]

Garten also sits on the Design Review Board for East Hampton, a panel that grants building permissions and approves architectural and design elements of the village. The board seeks to protect the historical district and further the overall aesthetics of the area.[28]

[edit] Family, religion, and marriage

Garten is known to guard her privacy closely, giving few interviews and declining to take part in Food Network charities and activities. Her family of origin is shielded almost completely from the spotlight; unlike her friends and colleagues, they are not featured on Barefoot Contessa. However, her road to fame and personal life were recently explored in the Food Network series Chefography, an hour-long documentary similar to the A&E program Biography. The show featured candid interviews with her husband, close friends, and former clients. No members of her family of origin were interviewed for Chefography.

Garten is Jewish by birth and heritage, as is her husband, but rarely refers to her religion and ethnicity. It is showcased only through the inclusion of classic Jewish cooking in her television show and cookbooks, when she makes such dishes as rugelach, challah, and brisket. The level of influence that her Judaism plays in her life is unclear, although it is known that she does not keep kosher.

Her husband, Jeffrey Garten, went on to become the Undersecretary of Commerce for International Trade and dean of the Yale School of Management. He is now the Juan Trippe Professor in the Practice of International Trade, Finance, and Business at Yale. He can also frequently be spotted on her cooking show, assisting his wife with menial tasks or sampling the dishes she has created. They divide their time between Manhattan, East Hampton, and Paris.[4]

[edit] Works

[edit] Books

* The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook (1999)
* Barefoot Contessa Parties! Ideas and Recipes For Easy Parties That Are Really Fun (2001)
* Barefoot Contessa Family Style: Easy Ideas and Recipes That Make Everyone Feel Like Family (2002)
* Barefoot in Paris: Easy French Food You Can Make at Home (2004)
* Barefoot Contessa at Home: Everyday Recipes You'll Make Over and Over Again (2006)
* Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics: Fabulous Flavor from Simple Ingredients (2008)

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