Top positive review
More Ina, just as easy and delicious and pricy as before.
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on October 25, 2006
`barefoot contessa at home' is Ina Garten's fifth cookbook and her second since her `barefoot contessa' show started on the Food Network in, I believe, 2003. I confess that Ina's show is one of my `guilty pleasures' as I enjoy it more than most other current Food Network programming, including shows by faves such as Giada DeLaurentiis, Paula Deen, and Rachael Ray. And, I like Ina's books for the same reason, as they express the great pleasure Ina derives from her life with husband Jeffrey and her cast of regular friends and visitors (shades of Mr. Roger's neighborhood). She doesn't even have a dog or cat with which to share the tranquillity of these two, living in a big house, set in a huge garden, near the shores of the Atlantic on Long Island, in the very trendy `Hamptons'.
On top of all this `bon hommine', Ina also has a knack of doing relatively easy recipes without all the Rachelesque hype about being fast. Ina will actually bake a loaf of bread, either yeasty white bread or the more rustic Irish Soda Bread (although I suspect there is not a drop of Irish blood in her very body). While this book advertises itself as a collection of recipes to make at home, there is no great difference between the recipes in this book from the ones in each of her earlier volumes. There are plenty here which come from either her earlier life as the owner / manager of the catering and retail operation named `barefoot contessa' or from other food vendors in the Hamptons. Reflecting her grounding in this little piece of heaven, she borrows a conceit from her Paris book and gives us a list of interesting culinary retailers in the Hamptons at the end of her book. She also gives a lot of pitch in the direction of Eli Zabar, whose venue is Manhattan and not Long Island. Oddly, her former company `barefoot contessa' is not among them.
After having gone through five books with Ina, many of her recipes are starting to look pretty familiar. Even without checking back, I'm certain that she has done other versions of tomato, chicken, shrimp, potato, and cabbage (cole slaw) salads in her earlier books. And, her drill with using certain ingredients has become pretty familiar as well. Every recipe using cooked chicken starts with baking chicken breasts in a 375-degree Fahrenheit oven for about 40 minutes. This is not a bad thing, as the more recipes you can build on some basic techniques, the easier your cooking will be and the closer you will be to being able to cook without a recipe. This brings up my first criticism of the book. So many of these recipes look very familiar, and are very close to what a reasonably experienced amateur cook can do for themselves. This fact does not sit well with the rather high list price of $35. These recipes are simply not as new or interesting compared to recipes we get from Tyler Florence or Sara Moulton in their $35 volumes and Food Network colleagues Giada, Paula, and Rachael very commonly have their books listed at well below the $35 standard for good 120 - 200 recipe books. Even Emeril's books are typically listed at below $30, with excellent renditions of his restaurant recipes.
Ina's selection of recipes does a good job of keeping with her theme, especially in her coverage of sandwiches and breakfasts, subjects which often get little or no treatment in the tracts on `haute cuisine'. The odd thing about the book, however, is that virtually all the chapter introductory material is about entertaining. While it is certainly about entertaining at home with small groups, I sense an uncertainty about how to theme and title this volume. While the subtitle insists that these are `everyday' recipes, there is a certain fanciness (read `expensive') to some of the recipes, requiring a fair share of things such as shrimp, lobster, tenderloin and tuna; however nothing is uncommon or bizarre. Miss Ina even avoids cilantro, as, quoting Sara Moulton, she seems to have the cilantro aversion gene.
All of these things boil down to the fact that if you like Ina's show (or if you like the old `In Martha's Kitchen' type of show) and you don't have a lot of other cookbooks, you will really like this cookbook. On the other hand, Miss Ina brings to her recipe writing all the little tics she demonstrates on her show. Just as Rachael annoys us to tears with her `EVOO' and other abbreviations, Ina constantly instructs us to use `good' mayonnaise and `good' chocolate and `good' olive oil and so on and so forth. Well Jeez Ina, do you think we are going to spend big bucks on your book and then get Dollar Store remainders!
Unlike mentor Martha, Ina doesn't include quite as much instruction in basic technique, but I thing that's a plus, as Ina's recipes simply don't need much fancy technique. This is just as well, because her weakest recipes are her renditions of some kitchen standards such as the recipes for chicken stock and white bread. Her stock recipe seems to have come from her catering business, as it requires a 16 to 20-quart stockpot and four chickens, while most kitchens are lucky to have a 6 or 8 quart pot. Whatever happened to all those carcasses we see Miss Ina salting away in her freezer for making stocks? On the other hand, her recipe for seafood stock is very sensible, in that it only needs shrimp shells and a small pot.
All in all, I expect I will use this cookbook as much or more than I do the tracts from kitchen gods such as Keller, Tramonto, Rippert, and Vongerichten, and if easy but impressive is important to you, Ina's books may be the only ones you need. But, if you relish new and challenging things, stay with Julia Child.